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#819: Y2K bug may sting even in computer-poor (fwd)


Wednesday October 27, 11:36 pm Eastern Time
Y2K bug may sting even in computer-poor _____Haiti By Jennifer Bauduy

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Denise Dinazar has not heard about the Year
2000 Bug.She does not worry about what will happen if computers around
the world go haywire andcause water shortages, black-outs, or
bureaucratic nightmares.The Port-au-Prince street vendor says she will
begin January 1, 2000, the same way she begins every day. First she will
light a candle, because she has no electricity. Then she will go
fetch water or send her son down the road to the neighborhood's only
open pipe.``We have to fight for the water, there is only one pipe and
everyone is struggling to fill their bucket,'' says Dinazar, who sells
fried food on the corner of a busy throughway on the outskirts of
Haiti's capital.Stockpiling cooking oil, bottled water and other staples
to prepare for widespread disruptions in a high tech world is a
completely foreign concept to someone who counts herself lucky to have a
few noodles or handfuls of oatmeal to feed her children on any given
day.For Dinazar, like millions of other people living in poverty around
the world, blackouts and food shortages are daily reality, not
the feared outcome of a potential new year's computer malfunction.
``That's everyday life,'' she said.But even Dinazar and her neighbors in
Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest nation located just 600 miles (965 km)
from Miami, may feel some effects within days if the government does not
ready for Y2K, local experts said.

The so-called millennium bug could prevent some computers from
distinguishing 2000 from 1900 because of an old programming shortcut,
which could cause them to malfunction.The glitch has generated
widespread international fear that the vast range of computer-dependent
industries and products --everything from coffee makers to medical
equipment to world financial markets -- may grind to a halt on Jan. 1.

But many of the major Y2K concerns in developed nations are not concerns
in Haiti. Its hospitals are not computerized. And its state-owned
telephone company provides only 60,000 telephone lines for its 7 million
people, of which 17,000 are out of order at any time, according to a
study by the office of Haiti's prime minister.
But there are 10,000 computers in the Caribbean nation. Jean-Pierre
Bailly, president of Companet, one of the country's largest computer
firms, said that number is enough to cause some low-level chaos in the
New Year in case of Y2K problems like banks unable to provide access to
accounts.``It won't be a big catastrophe like in the States, but we can
expect chaos in the streets,'' he said.Many here expressed open concern
about the state of Port-au-Prince International Airport. A study issued
early this year by the technology consulting firm Gartner Group listed
Haiti as one location with the possibility of widespread air traffic and
government services problems on Jan. 1.``The airport will be a
problem,'' said Kesner Pharel, an economics professor at the State
University of Haiti and president of the economic consulting firm Group
Airport officials did not return repeated calls for comment. A
spokeswoman for American Airlines, the dominant carrier in
Haiti, said it was too soon to discuss how any particular Caribbean site
would respond to Y2K, although the airline was doing everything it could
to prepare.
``We can not really say or anticipate if anything is going to happen at
this time,'' Minnette Velez, corporate communications manager for the
airline in the Caribbean, said from her office in San Juan.
The Haitian government is the nation's biggest employer, so officials
concentrated on ensuring the Ministry of Finance will be
able to churn out the payroll for thousands of public employees in early
January as usual.But aside from preparing its own Ministry, the Haitian
government said it has too few resources to prepare the general public
for the possibilities of a computer-related crisis.
``With less than two months to go, it is not the time to try and resolve
problems, but to reduce panic,'' Serge Felix, who heads the Y2K Bug
commission in the Ministry of Finance, said.In September, Group
Croissance organized seminars for small and medium enterprises on the
Y2K Bug.``The government didn't do any work letting people know about
the Y2K or warning them to be careful. They just concentrated on the big
stuff for the state not for the small firms,'' Pharel said.
``These people are going to be affected also. They know about Y2K, but
they think Y2K is a big problem for big firms or for the State, the
airport, the banks ...,'' Pharel said.``They are worried about how they
are going to get their money out of the banks, but they don't think that
it's going to be their problem also, since they are using a computer and
they have all their information in the computer,'' he said.
``Come January 1 or January 2, they won't be able to get information
from their computer files. But people are not aware of that,'' he said.

A government commission on the Y2K Bug was formed only in September,
Felix said. Members of the commission assure that the government at
least will be ready when the computers change their dates.But others are
less sure.``Haiti is not ready, everybody is lying about it,'' Bailly