Y2K Bug Worries Peace Corps

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Y2K Bug Worries Peace Corps



"By New Year's Eve, volunteers are expected to have moved in Belize, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Slovakia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe."

-- hamster (hamster@mycage.com), December 27, 1999



[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Monday December 27 1:20 AM ET

Y2K Bug Worries Peace Corps

By DAVID HO Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Peace Corps volunteers in nearly a dozen nations are moving from assigned posts to safer locations in their host countries because of potential disruptions caused by the Y2K computer bug.

Most of the 7,000 volunteers in 78 countries will remain where they live and work, which often are rural locations far from potential disruptions.

But in some nations, more severe problems could cut off volunteers in the field from vital supplies, transportation or contact with their local headquarters.

In those countries, the Peace Corps has encouraged volunteers to vacation back in the United States, said spokesman Brendan Daly. To avoid the risk of those remaining becoming completely isolated, many will travel to central meeting places, often in their host country's capital.

By New Year's Eve, volunteers are expected to have moved in Belize, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Slovakia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The corps will use some of the Y2K gatherings for training workshops or New Year's parties.

Roslyn Docktor, the Peace Corps Y2K director, said each country's headquarters prepares its own response, determining if rural or urban locations present greater risks and ensuring they can contact all volunteers.

Plans may change up until the last minute, as in Benin, Jamaica, Nepal and Papua New Guinea, where volunteers may also relocate, she said.

In Zambia, a Texas-size country in south-central Africa, about 60 volunteers will travel to the capital in Lusaka, said Brian Cavanagh, the Peace Corps country director.

``We're feeling more confident that there won't be a calamitous transition,'' he said in an interview from Lusaka.

Cavanagh said scheduled training classes and medical exams were scheduled to coincide with the new year, bringing most volunteers to the capital. This leaves enough resources to transport the 35 people remaining out in the field if necessary.

Elsewhere in Africa, there have been concerns that computer problems with banks could keep people from being paid, resulting in civil unrest, Daly said.

While U.S. officials say America is mostly prepared, Y2K readiness varies around the world, especially in a handful of African and Eastern European countries.

``Over the past year, the Peace Corps has planned extensively for Y2K, adopting precautionary measures and developing contingency plans to minimize potential risks to ensure the safety of its volunteers,'' Docktor said.

She said Peace Corps offices around the world have emergency generators and two kinds of satellite telephones for backup communications. A few have stockpiled food, water and fuel, and some volunteers will receive sleeping bags, flashlights and medical supplies.

``We're more accustomed to being in countries that have developmental problems,'' Docktor said. ``We're uniquely prepared to handle challenges.''

The Y2K problem confuses older computers and software programs because they recognize only the year's last two digits and could interpret ``00'' as 1900.

Of the countries causing the corps concern, Madagascar, Belize and Moldova are among the world's worst prepared for Y2K, according to International Monitoring, a technology consulting group.

The State Department authorized eligible family and nonessential employees to leave four countries unprepared for Y2K, including Moldova in Eastern Europe, where local officials expect failures in power, railway and police services.

Timothy Curtin, a Peace Corps administrative officer in Moldova's capital, Kishinev, said it was easier to ensure the safety of their 35 remaining volunteers by bringing them to a hotel in the capital.

While Moldova regularly endures sporadic loss of electricity and heat and stockpiling is common, the corps has recently stored larger amounts of coal, gas, water, bread and potatoes.

``It would be definitely more of a crisis situation if food suddenly starts disappearing off the shelves,'' Curtin said.

Fuel imports had been a concern in Zambia, but seaport computers in nearby countries were recently certified as Y2K compliant, Cavanagh said.

``There's a fair chance that we'll have power problems, but you know this is Africa,'' he said. ``If the power's out, it's not going to be that a big a difference. People cope.''


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 27, 1999.

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