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Cosmas L. ZavazavaHelping hands

Cosmas L. Zavazava, Head of Division, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, and Emergency Telecommunications at the ITU talks to Intercomms about the numerous initiatives the ITU-D is pursuing to support disaster relief

Cosmas Zavazava (BBA, Diploma Telecommunications, Diploma Systems Engineering, MBA, MA, LLM, PhD) is the Head of Division for Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, and Emergency Telecommunications within the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union. He has formulated and implemented a host of telecommunications/ICT projects at national, regional and international levels aimed at introducing new, low-cost, and appropriate technologies for the general development of developing countries, and for disaster communications. He has written widely on the subject.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ITU or its Membership.

Q: What is the ITU's history of involvement is disaster communications?
A: Established in 1865, the ITU is the oldest UN agency and part of its responsibility is to address the priority of telecommunications concerning safety of life. ITU coordinates the effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum, establishes radio standards and guidelines concerning the use of radiocommunication systems, deploys telecommunications technologies and develops infrastructure and guidelines that facilitate prediction, detection, monitoring, alerting, and general communications for disaster management.

ITU's technical standards for telecommunications play a strategic role in ensuring global interconnection and interoperability for monitoring and management at the onset of emergency situations and during disasters. A number of Recommendations have been developed for call-priority schemes that ensure relief workers get access to communication lines, whether using traditional or next-generation communications networks. Standards are also fundamental to ensure that timely early warnings are delivered uncorrupted from the source to the end users - no matter how they can be reached.

Emergency Telecommunications is an integral part of ITU's development arm. Considerable effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management and preparedness in telecommunications projects and activities. This includes infrastructure development and the establishment of enabling policy as well as legal and regulatory frameworks. In the immediate aftermath of disasters, ITU deploys temporary telecommunications solutions to assist countries affected by disasters, including the provision of basic telecommunications and telemedicine applications via satellites. During first week of March 2008, ITU deployed in Zambia following devastating floods that displaced thousands of people from their homes. The last quarter of 2007 witnessed a number of such deployments in Peru, Bangladesh, and Uganda. Reconstruction and rehabilitation of telecommunications networks are an important part of disaster management. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries to determine the magnitude of damage to the network through the use of geographical information systems and remote sensing. Work related to this was extensively undertaken by ITU in many of the countries that were victim to the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster. On the basis of its findings, ITU and the host country embark on the resuscitation of the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of future disaster strikes.

In 2002, ITU launched the first project aimed at providing countries with easily transportable telecommunications equipment for use in the immediate aftermath of disasters. While ITU injected seed money into the project, the private sector immediately made both financial and inkind contributions by way of satellite based equipment. A number of ITU Resolutions have since been passed to re-affirm the Union's commitment to saving lives in times of disasters.

By the way, when we discuss the issue of disaster communications or emergency telecommunications, we do not limit ourselves to technological issues. We also address the legal and regulatory frameworks that seek to facilitate the deployment of telecommunications resources within the borders of affected countries, and the movement of such resources across borders. One of our additional competencies relates to the regulatory and legal framework. Most people are familiar with the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations whose roots are in the Tampere Declaration on Disaster Communications (Tampere, 1991) which made an urgent call for reliable telecommunication systems for disaster mitigation and disaster relief operations and for an international Convention on Disaster Communications to facilitate such systems. The Convention could only come into force thirty days after the deposit of instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession or definitive signature of thirty States. The ratification process was quite slow resulting in the required number of countries (30 or 30 plus) being reached towards the end of 2004, just before the tsunami hit some countries in Asia. The Convention came into effect on the 8th of January 2005 after its ratification by 32 countries. Since then, we have been assisting countries to ratify and implement this important treaty. In a nutshell, we believe that a stable, predictable, and non-discriminatory legal and regulatory regime, is quintessential to timely deployment of telecommunications resources that could save millions of lives.

Q: What role do Public Private Partnerships play in your activities?
A: There is a great force that lies in public-private partnerships. These two "Ps" reinforce each other resulting in tremendous synergy. ITU is fortunate in that its membership is made up of both Member States (191) and the Private Sector (700). This facilitates the forging of partnerships and opens doors to project co-financing. The spectre of disaster affects both countries and private sector entities, and disasters kill and maim citizens that include workers for private sector entities. Disasters also disrupt and destroy infrastructure that could be owned either by government or by a private sector entity. For businesses, effective disaster management is crucial because of their concern for ensuring business continuity. This simple illustration shows that disaster management is a rallying point for, and of interest to both the government and the private sector. ITU has been very successful in playing a catalytic role in the forging of public and private sector partnerships. Our projects on disaster communications have received very good funding from both governments and the private sector. I should quickly add that our private sector members have been very ready to contribute to ITU initiatives on ensuring that telecommunications resources are readily available when disasters strike. For instance, ITU held a Global Forum on Effective Use of Telecommunications/ICT for Disaster Management: Saving Lives from 10 to 12 December 2007. A total of 11 Cooperation Agreements were concluded. These agreements brought both financial and in-kind (equipment) to ITU to be used for ensuring universal access of telecommunications resources for disaster preparedness and disaster relief. By the way, such partnerships are not sui generis to projects related to emergency telecommunications but are evident in projects related to other ITU initiatives as we work towards the creation of an Information Society.

Q: The Tampere Convention has been ratified by 36 countries. Do you expect this to increase significantly?
A: We are very optimistic and continue to work tirelessly to assist countries during the ratification process. We also assist those countries that have already ratified the treaty to implement it. To that end, we are running national workshops to openly discuss the Convention with all stakeholders. Some people think that once you have ratified it, you open the floodgates and anyone can come with any equipment they like. That is not the case. Nothing in the Convention interferes with the right of a State Party, under its national law, to direct, control, coordinate and supervise telecommunication assistance provided under the Convention within its territory.

Our main aim now is to bring all stakeholders to the table through national and regional workshops because we have realized that even in a country that has ratified the Convention one easily finds for example, a junior customs or immigration official who may not be aware of the Tampere Convention or that the government ratified it. The natural response from such an official is to stop entry and impound equipment which ends up being stuck in a warehouse somewhere until the disaster is over.

It is not all doom and gloom, as there is evidence that a number of countries are currently working towards depositing instruments of ratification. So, the number should increase substantially especially with increased awareness on the implications of the treaty.

Q: Two important recent initiatives are the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies and the ITU Network of Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications. What do they aim to do?
A: We launched a number of initiatives at the Global Forum on 'Effective Use of Telecommunications/ICT for Disaster Management: Saving Lives' in December , but the key ones were the ITU Framework for Co-operation in Emergencies (IFCE) and the ITU Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications (VET). The IFCE is a framework designed by ITU to primarily deliver and deploy telecommunications / information and communications resources to countries affected by disasters, humanitarian workers, United Nations Organizations, Non- Governmental Organizations, and local communities involved in disaster relief operations through the timely deployment of emergency telecommunication equipment and e-services such as telemedicine anywhere and anytime across the globe. The initiative seeks to mobilize resources from the 191 ITU Members States and Sector Members numbering more than 700. The IFCE as an ITU strategic initiative has three basic clusters/pillars. The Technology Cluster that consists of satellite operators and land earth station operators, telecommunication operators i.e. fixed and mobile service providers, geographical information system (GIS), remote sensing organizations, as well as providers for the assimilation and dissemination of pre-planned, historical and real-time information before, during and after disasters. The Finance Cluster which calls on and invites potential sources of finance to contribute towards the creation of a stand-by fund that will be used when disasters strike. These included governments, development banks, private sector, United Nations organizations, regional economic groups, and others. Finally, the Logistics Cluster that seeks to put in place arrangements with providers of transport and freight services that will enable timely transportation of telecommunications/ICT equipment to and from sites of disasters. This includes air transport operators, international couriers, and others.

The ITU Network of Volunteers for Emergency Telecommunications is an initiative that seeks to mobilize and create a database of technical personnel who are willing to undertake ITU missions at short notice when disasters strike. This includes ITU retired engineers, ITU Member States and ITU Sector Member engineers (retired and servicing) willing to participate in the deployment of emergency telecommunications in the immediate aftermath of disasters. For example, if something happens in a country, we will look first for experts in that country, and then neighbouring countries as a way of cutting travelling costs. This also allows experts to spend more time delivering help rather than travelling. In ITU, we take disaster communications as a calling or passion that is driven by profound creativity, innovation and continuous improvement. I think the Iberian proverb puts it aptly, "Traveller, there no roads. Roads are made by walking."

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