Y2K could create a world of problems for U.N.
May 16, 1999
From Reporter Deborah Feyerick
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- For the United Nations, becoming Y2K- compatible is a challenge of global proportions. Everything from Security Council meetings to peacekeeping missions to humanitarian relief relies on computers in one way or another.
"We've got to make sure that we are getting the supplies in what could be a crippled transportation system," says Joseph Connor, undersecretary-general for administration and finance.
Seven and a half months before the new millennium, U.N. officials said 75 percent of their technology is Year 2000 compatible.
A new computer system, placed in the budget before the Y2K dilemma was factored in, is being installed at a cost of $70 million. But the problem is larger than a single system.
"The United Nations depends on the rest of the world," says Jean Pierre Roz, who heads the United Nation's Y2K task force. "We are in a global village. We may be fully prepared, but we may be affected by failures in other areas."
U.N. officials say communications are a major concern. Satellites and telephones link the United Nations to its staff overseas, and a small computer problem in one country could have international repercussions.
The same applies to banking in some of the 185 countries that belong to the United Nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"The OECD characterizes 50 percent of the countries' position as 'scary' -- a nonbureaucratic but very descriptive word," Connor says.
To plan for possible Y2K-related bank failures, the United Nations is setting up special accounts so that hundreds of its missions don't run out of money. But that provision doesn't necessarily help member states.
U.N. officials held a conference in December to alert member nations to the dangers of Y2K. They offered plenty of advice, but no money to help cash-poor countries update their technology.
Even with all its preparations, including backup generators, the United Nations says there is only so much it can do.
"We're not going to be able to cover everything," Connor says. "That would be a foolish expenditure of money to try to remake the world."
The Year 2000 problem could arise when computers that use only two digits to read dates mistake the year 2000, or "00," as 1900, resulting in computer systems putting out wrong information or breaking down.
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