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Thursday, May 14, 1998 Published at 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK

Y2K: who will save developing world?

The bug awaits: Only one year, 276 days to go......

Who will save the world from the Millennium Bug?

The British prime minister Tony Blair was praised for setting a global example in March with the announcement of a comprehensive government plan for tackling Britain's Year 2000 computer problem.

At the same time, in the offices of the World Bank in Washington, staff were sifting through applications from other possible superheroes.

InfoDEV offered a grant of up to $250,000 to "the best proposal on how to assist and stimulate developing countries to take a more proactive approach in dealing with the Y2K problem", according to the prospectus on its special Internet site.

It says it is concerned that developing countries have been slow to begin the work necessary to convert information systems, pointing out they have limited resources to do so and face serious disruption as a result.

Both individuals and companies had submitted proposals from countries including the United States, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, France, Italy, India, Pakistan, Latvia, Venezuela and Egypt.

Consiel, the management consulting unit of Italian computer services company Finsiel, won the award.

It will create a toolkit and provide content for a web-based information campaign. This will help governments in the developing world to formulate a national strategy.

How the world is coping

The developing world is particularly exposed to the threat of the Millennium Bug. In large part, it has not been able to afford to replace old computer systems which give a defective two-digit display of the Year 2000 as 00, meaning it could be mistaken for 1900.

This has worked to the advantage in some ways of countries such as India, which has a workforce still skilled in the old code and is able to get a share of business worth billions of dollars to fix the problem.

But it could spell disaster in regions such as Eastern Europe, where medical equipment reported to be non-compliant has been donated by the West.

Elsewhere, there are signs that countries and companies are finally in earnest about solving the problem:

  • The American Federal Aviation Authority is now trying to replace rather than fix non-compliant IBM mainframe computers from the mid 80s at the centre of the country's Air Traffic Control system.

  • President Clinton has appointed a Millennium Bug czar, John Koskinen, to head a task force. He will seek to boost a rate of progress which currently promises that only 63 per cent of the government's systems will be Year-2000 compliant in time.

  • In a bid to find out the extent of the problem, the Australian Stock Exchange said that it would suspend trading in the shares of listed companies if they did not disclose their exposure to the Millennium Bug by June 30.

    And finally...after Y2K, D10K? The Wall Street Journal has reported that experts predict financial software may go haywire if the Dow Jones Industrial Average tops 10,000 ( it is currently at around 8,800). Many software programs are designed to handle only four-digit Dows, according to one software designer, who says that concern over the D10K problem could spawn another industry to fix it.

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    In this section

    Millennium Bug could cripple governments and health services

    Millennium bug to hit more than computers

    Y2K: who will save developing world?

    IT army to prevent 'digital doomsday'