While first world countries struggle to meet the immovable year 2000 deadline, many developing countries are just now waking up to the problem. International institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and ICC are starting to face the challenge.
In a panel discussion at the World Congress on Information Technology Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, called for a global Y2K plan, coordinating action from governments, small and large businesses and international organisations.
International Organisations appear ready to respond to the call
Ahmad Kamal, the ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations, said the UN has a draft resolution on the Y2K issue, due to be approved before the end of the month.
Kamal said the UN had a grave responsibility and must "use its claws" to prompt its member countries into action. "The UN is the only global multilateral forum we have," he said.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are also chipping in. The World Bank already has a trust fund to help countries solve their Y2K problem. "We hope that, in the financial management of the situation, the World Bank will take the lead," Kamal said.
But Kamal also suggested possible positive effects of the crisis. In the US, he said, fixing a line of Cobol code costs $1.20. "Developing countries can do it at 20 cents a line," he said, urging US enterprises to look to these countries for help.
Maria Cattaui, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, said the ICC had grave worries about the consequences of Y2K on world commerce. She said the Y2K problem could cut half a percentage point or more off world economic growth.
According to Cattaui, one of the biggest problems will be with relatively small banks, especially in Europe.
The world's poorest countries will generally be spared, Cattaui said, because they depend on few, often relatively new computer systems. The richest countries, on the other hand, are generally quite well advanced towards fixing their most essential systems.
"The problem is the middle tier of countries", she said. Basic utilities, especially electricity, are endangered.
One of the issues the ICC is focusing on, is the wave of litigation that is expected to follow the inevitable Year 2000 computer failures.
Maria Cattaui said the huge amounts that must be spent on fixing the Y2K problems - $600 billion according to some estimates - will "pale into insignificance" against the amounts that will be demanded in damages. Some estimates say that for every dollar spent on solving Y2K problems, two will be spent on litigation.
The ICC is readying its International Court of Arbitration to aid in resolving such litigation by creating a dispute resolution panel and offering arbitration.
Speakers at the World Congress generally appeared to agree that large, multinational corporations are furthest advanced towards solving their Y2K problems.
But Harris Miller urged multinational companies to assist the SMEs in their supply chain.
"No one is immune," said Miller. "Every organisation on the entire globe is affected". Even if a company has repaired its own systems, Y2K defects at its suppliers - or its customers - can hurt its business, he pointed out.
Miller added that governments must assume their responsibilities.
"Governments must act like governments. They must lead by example, get their own house in order". But governments must also educate businesses, and provide incentives such as cheap loans, Miller said.
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