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Swiss push for peace through technology

Even basic forms of technology can improve humanitarian assistance

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland hopes to help prevent conflicts and promote humanitarian efforts through a new project involving information and communication technologies.

The initial aim of the "ICT4Peace" initiative is to create an online platform for the international community to encourage the sharing of ideas and knowledge.

The project forms part of Switzerland’s contribution to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is to be held in Tunisia in November.

The first part of the summit took place in Geneva in 2003 and resulted in an action plan to use ICTs to fight poverty, hunger and disease.

Since then, the architects of ICT4Peace have interviewed peace workers from hot spots around the world – including Somalia, Macedonia and the Middle East – to determine how technology can be used to improve their efforts.

"We discovered a project in Somalia that used videos of elders talking about their common security concerns," said the initiative’s research consultant, William Drake.

"These types of basic efforts help break down barriers between communities and prevent conflicts from starting in the first place," he added.

Prevent wars

The broader goal is to foster the use of technology in preventing wars, mitigating disputes and facilitating reconstruction.

"Peace is a prerequisite for social development," said Daniel Stauffacher, Swiss ambassador for the WSIS.

"When conflict occurs, it can wipe out years of development work in a matter of weeks," he told swissinfo. "So we need to put ICTs higher on the global policy agenda when it comes to ensuring human security and progress."

Early warning system

In the same way that early warning systems have been developed for earthquakes and virus outbreaks, the project leaders say technology could also be used to help save lives during man-made disasters, such as war and genocide.

Stauffacher and Drake both concede that technology alone cannot put a stop to fighting.

But they see it as a tool to build cultural acceptance and create a stronger sense of shared responsibility among civilians and governments.

"Sometimes we see conflicts appear on the radar... so, the relationship between awareness and doing something about it is also very important," Stauffacher said.

Humanitarian network

They also say technology should play a bigger role in post-war reconstruction efforts.

Their first priority is to develop a "global community of expertise" linking ICT specialists, humanitarian workers, governments, international organisations, businesses and civil society together.

"There are a lot of different levels to this," said Drake. "But mainly it’s about determining how organisations can better coordinate their efforts and improve their operations.

"There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of interesting things but they don’t always know about each others’ work," he added.

"So our goal is to create a network that will facilitate more effective communication... because ultimately, this is about human beings and organisations using technology to take action."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

The Swiss government, along with a core network of organisations and individuals, has launched an initiative to use technology to promote peace.

The ICT4peace project aims to use information and communication technologies to prevent fighting and help with post-war reconstruction efforts.

An on-line community for humanitarian workers and international organisations has also been created as part of the initiative.

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