Summary of "Information Technologies Can Help"

Summary of

Information Technologies Can Help

By Various

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Information Technologies Can Help," Peace Watch, Vol. III, No. 4 (June 1997) p. 6-7.

This newsletter presents an overview of a series of panel discussions held during the U.S. Institute for Peace's 1997 conference on "Virtual Diplomacy." Conference participants discussed the ways in which new information technologies could be used to improve conflict management and prevention. Many relief workers agree, however, that the main obstacle to effective conflict prevention is not lack of intelligence, but lack of political will.

Using Information Technology to Manage Conflict

The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Central Africa has developed the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Local relief workers provide up-to-the-minute information to IRIN staff. IRIN then analyzes and digests that information into reports which are distributed daily by fax and e-mail to over a thousand subscribers. IRIN information is also available through ReliefWeb, an Internet site. ReliefWeb compiles information on regional conditions from a variety of sources. ReliefWeb is updated daily, and is accessed each day by over ten thousand people world-wide.

Conference participants proposed further uses of the new information technologies. One proposal is for development of a Humanitarian Extranet, a global net with access limited to governments and relief agencies. This net would allow for a "back channel" of communication. Such a limited access system would provide governments the opportunity to evaluate humanitarian crises and possible responses before the public media began to apply pressure. It would also foster more collaborative relationships between aid agencies and governments. The Internet has already proven itself useful in managing conflicts. Chiapas rebels in Mexico distributed information over the Internet to counter the censorship and propaganda put forth by government TV and radio. Burmese exiles and sympathizers have used the Internet to generate global grass-roots support for the suppressed pro-democracy movement. As a result, a number of large U.S. companies have acted to oppose the oppressive military regime which currently controls Burma by withdrawing from the country. Project Bosnia has used the Internet to help reestablish civil society, by connecting legal, media and governmental information. The Project seeks to encourage rule of law in Bosnia by providing official with the resources they need to make informed decisions.