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Emergency Communications for Disaster Relief Deployment Archive

Emergency Communications for Disaster Relief Deployment Archive

When disaster strikes, the immediate needs are obvious: food, water, shelter, and medical supplies. But none of these necessities will reach survivors without the largely invisible communication networks that must be set up quickly to enable relief workers to save lives.

Recognizing the vitality of strong telecommunications networks for humanitarian relief efforts, the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership has jointly developed a robust emergency communications program that brings resources and mobile technology infrastructure to support the critical role of communications in disaster response.

The Technology Partnership supports the work of the UN World Food Programme (WFP)—the UN's food relief agency, with a specialized team of telecommunications emergency managers—and the non-governmental organization Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), which deploys to disaster at the request of UN agencies.


Japan (March, 2011) - A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a devastating tsunami. With the death toll in the thousands and rising, and more than 10,000 people missing, communications are critical to an effective humanitarian relief operation, yet communications capabilities have been limited by the destruction.

TSF has deployed a team to Japan to assess telecommunications needs of the local population and emergency workers. Using portable satellite communications equipment, they stand at the ready to provide voice and data communications for aid workers who rely on these tools to coordinate logistics and deliver life-saving supplies.  

Libya (March, 2011) - Amidst ongoing violence across Libya, thousands of refugees are fleeing the country across the Tunisian border.  With support from the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, a team of telecommunications experts from Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) deployed to the Ras Ajdir frontier post where they are providing refugees with free phone calls to anywhere in the world to share news with their families, receive a mental break or ask for a personal assistance. 

Experts on site, working alongside Tunisian authorities, have been overwhelmed by a massive and continuous inflow of refugees from Libya and nationals from Egypt, Tunisia, Somalia, Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Korea, and Morocco. From February 25th to March 3rd, more than 3,650 calls were offered to the displaced populations, mainly for Egypt and Bangladesh.

In parallel, TSF has opened emergency connections and is providing vital ICT support (Internet, telephone, and fax) to the UNHCR teams and the Tunisian Red Crescent based at the Ras Ajdir frontier post.

Listen to a podcast from TSF team member Florian Vichot on the ground in Tunisia.


Sudan (December, 2010) - Sudan, with its volatile security situation, lack of infrastructure and its remote locations, is one of the most logistically complex and challenging environments for humanitarian operations.

In the lead up to the January 2011 referendum on South Sudan’s independence, the World Food Program (WFP) leveraged funding from the Vodafone Foundation and United Nations Foundation, to send Senior Telecommunication Specialist Michael Dirksen to Southern Sudan to strengthen the preparedness of the 12 sub-offices in the region.

Michael is a seven year veteran of WFP Dubai’s fast intervention team (FITTEST), and has completed WFP’s IT Emergency Management Training course that is open to the global community of humanitarian first responders, and that also is funded by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation partnership.

Côte d’Ivoire (December, 2010) - Since an attempted coup in 2002, Côte d'Ivoire, once one of west Africa’s most stable and prosperous nations, has been divided in two. Since then, it is estimated that nearly 800,000 people have been displaced from their homes.  The prolonged crisis in Côte d'Ivoire has created a complex humanitarian emergency, and disrupted the country’s food security.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cited evidence of "massive" violations in Ivory Coast, saying over 50 people had been killed over the span of three days alone and raising concern over reports of deaths in detention. To undergird the communications for the humanitarian relief effort, Mr. Prakash Muniandy, Regional Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) officer, was deployed to Côte d’Ivoire to support the emergency efforts of the WFP country office, as well as carry out an assessment of the ICT capacity of the humanitarian community in the country. During his one month mission, Prakash assisted the humanitarian community in Côte d’Ivoire in ensuring that the security telecommunications infrastructure was in place.  This would allow staff to communicate in the event that the GSM network or other regular means of communications were disabled due to the unrest.

Prakash is a member of the WFP Inter-Agency emergency response team that is on standby in the WFP regional offices ready to deploy and support in any emergency operation. His deployment was funded by the Vodafone Foundation, United Nations Foundation and WFP Partnership.

Colombia (November, 2010) - According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 300 people were killed and another 300 wounded or missing due to the massive flooding caused by months-long torrential rains. In total, over 2 million people were affected by the disaster. The Northern region of the country was hit hardest by the flooding, with the La Guajira, Atlantico, Magdalena and Bolivar reporting hundreds of thousands affected.

In response, the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership funded the emergency deployment of a team of telecommunications specialists from Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) to assess damage to the communications infrastructure and provide vital technical support for UN agencies and NGOs working on the ground.

 Pakistan (August, 2010) - Torrential rains in Pakistan triggered devastating floods, creating what has been called the worst humanitarian disaster in the country’s history. Millions of people were affected by the flooding, with the death toll estimated at over 1,500. In response, the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership funded the emergency deployment of a team of telecommunications specialists from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) to provide vital technical support for UN agencies and NGOs responding to the crisis. Both teams established multiple communications centers throughout the country equipped with internet, phone and radio capabilities. In addition, within two days after the disaster TSF had provided free phone calls to 612 families living in temporary camps and shelters. These calls were often the first chance survivors had to reach family and loved ones since they were forced from their homes.

Listen to a podcast from the WFP IT team leader on the ground in Pakistan. 


Kyrgyzstan (June, 2010) -

 Ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan triggered the worst violence in 20 years forcing an estimated 100,000 to flee from their homes. To undergird the humanitarian relief effort, teams of telecommunications experts from TSF and WFP deployed to provide emergency communications with funding by the United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation.

On the ground, WFP and TSF quickly establish telecommunications centers to support the humanitarian community working in the region. In addition to enabling the coordinated delivery of food aid, these satellite-based communications networks provide aid workers with secure and reliable connections from the heart of the crisis, and help reconnect families affected by the crisis.

Chile (February, 2010) - A devastating earthquake of magnitude 8.8 struck Chile on February 27, 2010. With at least 700 people killed and more than 2 million people affected, President Michelle Bachelet called for urgent international help and indicated that their priority was to get communications functioning. TSF immediately deployed a crew of telecom experts in emergency telecommunications to set up calling and communications centers.


Haiti (January, 2010) - After an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 crippled the communications infrastructure in Haiti in January 2010, TSF set up free call centers in the capital Port-au-Prince using satellite technology and equipment funded by the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation. For many families, the centers provided the first connection with the outside world since the earthquake hit, and helped them reconnect with loved ones. Read the story of impact.



Northern & Western Pakistan (May 22-June 10, 2009) - After a rise in violent conflict between government troops and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, over 3 millions Pakistanis were forced from their homes  in the midst of what has been the largest and the swiftest displacement of people to take place anywhere in the world in recent years. 

Supported by the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, and in collaboration with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, a team of telecommunications experts from Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) deployed to the war-torn region to provide humanitarian aid workers with satellite-based communications tools.  In temporary camps throughout the region, the team also offered free phone calls to displaced persons so that they could give news to their families.  Separate services dedicated to women were also established in and outside the camps, enabling the women to contact relatives in Pakistan or abroad.

With support from the Partnership, two ICT Emergency Preparedness and Response officers from the UN World Food Program (WFP) also deployed to the region. These telecoms experts assessed the situation on the ground to identify and fill gaps in security communications services supporting the food relief and other humanitarian efforts underway. The WFP team also and provided technical and telecommunications expertise to agencies working in the affected areas.

Due to security issues, the humanitarian community and both teams of telecoms experts faced significant challenges in providing assistance to the internally displaced populations. Following the bombing of the Hotel Intercontinental Pearl in Peshawar on June 10, both teams, whose members were staying at the hotel, were evacuated from the country.


Dungu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (January 22-February 14, 2009) - TSF returned to the Dungu region of DRC on an emergency mission to reestablish secure internet connections after a rebel attack the local communications infrastructure. The renewed connection benefitted a number of UN agencies and NGOs working to coordinate aid among refugee camps in the region.

A few months prior, in November of 2008, UNICEF had requested the support of TSF in Dungu, where no traditional communications were available. With funding from the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, TSF successfully established an emergency telecommunications center to support the humanitarian community working in the region. In addition to installing satellite-based phone, internet and fax lines, TSF also ran humanitarian calling operations within the refugee camps, providing over 2,000 families with a free, 3-minute phone call to reconnect with loved ones.

Iraq (February 2009) - After the war in 2003, thousands of Iraqis of Palestinian origin were forced from their homes and into temporary settlements in the deserts of Iraq.  Al Waleed camp is home to over 1,500 refugees who are surviving without electricity, running water, or proper shelter or medical care.  Working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) visited the isolated camp to conduct a telecommunications assessment based on the needs of the population and the humanitarian organizations working there. 

During the assessment, funded by the UN Foundation – Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, it was established that improved satellite connections could facilitate UNHCR's efforts to find a new home for the people at Al Waleed.  Satellite-based internet and phone lines also could support education and training programs to help prepare the population for resettlement.  TSF intends to return to Al Waleed to help implement these communications networks and help provide a life line for refugees in the camp to increase contact with family and loved ones they've left behind.


Afghanistan (2008) – In Afghanistan, the average life expectancy is just 43 and only about 28% of adults can read and write. More than a third of Afghans don’t get enough to eat ever day, and this number has been rising due to natural disasters and years of war and political instability.

To ensure and support safe operations for the entire humanitarian community working in Afghanistan, the UN World Food Programme’s emergency ICT (Information Communication Technology) team deployed to Afghanistan to help to establish a fully functional and reliable security telecommunications system in the country. The team worked to ensure the availability of secure radio networks, upgraded existing systems, and deployed new equipment for UN agencies and affiliated NGOs. Twenty-one aid groups benefitted from these services, which have supported the work of over 6,000 UN staff and 1,200 NGO staff.

To ensure the sustainability of the system, UN and NGO staff also received training from WFP’s telecommunications experts on how to properly utilize the security telecommunications networks and equipment.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (December 2008): Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) escalated steadily after a ceasefire agreement between Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People and the Congolese government broke down in August 2008. It is estimated that over 1.8 million people have been affected, many of which have fled into other regions in DRC or neighboring Uganda.

To ease the humanitarian crisis, the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership funded two emergency communications for disaster response deployments: WFP’s ICT (Information Communications Technology) team to North and South Kivu provinces; and Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) to Matanda, Uganda.

WFP deployed two emergency communications managers to support the ICT officer already based in DRC, where the team focused primarily on reestablishing communications for aid agencies operating in North and South Kivu provinces—areas marked by heavy fighting and large populations of displaced persons. In addition to providing communications for the delivery of food aid, the WFP team provided security communications and data services for aid agencies including UNHCR and UNICEF.

To help reconnect refugees with loved ones separated by the crisis, TSF established “humanitarian calling operations” in Uganda near the DRC border, such as in the Matanda transit camp where 10,000 people were housed in temporary shelter 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the border. TSF also installed a satellite-based Internet connection to support communications by aid agencies in Kihihi, a small town-turned-humanitarian-base camp 30 minutes from Matanda.

Click here to see TSF’s work on the ground, and here to listen to a podcast from WFP’s Oscar Caleman, reporting from Uganda.


Panama (November 2008 ): Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) deployed to flood-ridden regions of Panama immediately after the Panamanian President declared a state of emergency, requesting support in the areas of information management, logistics and coordination.

The floods left thousands homeless, and seriously damaged communications and other infrastructure necessary to coordinate the relief effort.

Working on the ground with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, TSF’s emergency specialists installed satellite-based telecommunications systems to support and facilitate relief efforts in the affected areas. Through broadband internet, phone and fax lines, TSF enabled humanitarian workers to effectively communicate and deliver vital aid to those most in need.


Hargeisa, Somalia (October 2008): Five suicide bombers attacked government and UN offices in northern Somalia, killing at least 21 people and leaving a number of others critically injured. The UN Development Program office in Hargeisa was targeted in the attack, which killed two UN staff members and badly damaged the building and its communications systems.

The World Food Programme (WFP), as the UN's lead agency tasked with security communications in emergency situations, immediately deployed in response to the crisis. WFP's team of telecommunications specialists brought essential technology and telecommunications tools to the region to reestablish secure lines of communication and provide technical support throughout the recovery effort.

Honduras (October 2008): A tropical depression in Central American caused months of sustained rainfall, ultimately leading to a dangerous rise in water levels throughout the region. In Honduras, widespread flooding devastated nearly the entire country and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. As a result of recent deforestation, the country has been rendered especially vulnerable to land and mudslides, which cause further damage to crops and aggravate the effects of the global food crisis.

Télécoms Sans Frontières' (TSF) emergency managers immediately deployed to Honduras to provide technical and telecommunications support for United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams working on the ground. TSF's telecommunications tools and expertise provide vital support during UNDAC field assessments, as workers attempted to measure the severity of the disaster and identify those most in need of humanitarian assistance.

Balochistan, Pakistan (October 29-November 12, 2008): Reacting to a 6.5 earthquake in Pakistan, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) deployed a team of emergency telecommunications specialist to provide vital technical and communications support to aid workers responding to the crisis on the ground. In addition to killing more than 300 people, the quake badly damaged the region's communications infrastructure, cutting off phone lines and leaving the population even more helpless.

Using satellite-based telecommunications tools, TSF established a humanitarian calling operation in the region, providing survivors with free 3-minute phone calls to give news to their families and reconnect with loved ones. Additionally, TSF ensured that rescue teams were equipped with sufficient communications means to be able to respond to the disaster and communicate right at the heart of the crisis.

Click here to listen to a podcast from TSF’s Head of Mission in Pakistan, and here to view a video of the conditions on the ground and TSF’s efforts to provide communications support to survivors.

Tbilisi, Georgia (August 13-September 6, 2008): The violent conflict that abruptly arose between Russian and Georgian troops over the breakaway region of South Ossetia forced an estimated 160,000 civilians and into crowded temporary shelters with scarce food, water and electricity, and limited communications with the outside world.

Telecommunications experts from the UN World Food Programme’s ICT (Information Communications Technology) team immediately deployed to the region, where shipments of radios, satellite phones and supplies helped to bolster communications between humanitarian aid workers in the country.
Télécoms Sans Frontières’ (TSF) telecommunications managers also deployed to establish mobile internet connections to follow UNHCR field assessment teams working in Western Georgia. These secure mobile connections enabled reports to be sent in real time, allowing for quick response and coordinated distribution of aid.

TSF team members also established a humanitarian calling operation for displaced Georgians in Tbilisi. As a result, more than 300 families were able to get in touch with loved ones who had been displaced during the conflict.

Gonaives, Haiti (September 3-October 3, 2008): In August and September 2008, four consecutive cyclones – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike – devastated Haiti, killing hundreds, displacing thousands, and destroying vital crops. 

The successive storms had severely damaged Haiti's communications infrastructure, making outside telecommunications support an essential part of the humanitarian assistance mission.

Once again, the UN Foundation's Technology Program supported the use of mobile technology to help reconnect families, aid workers and emergency response missions during this crisis.

Emergency telecommunications officers from both the UN World Food Programme (WFP)—the UN's food relief agency—and the non-governmental organization Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) deployed immediately to support the ongoing relief effort.

TSF and WFP brought in tools like mobile satellite data transmitters to power phone, fax and data lines, enabling relief workers to communicate with one another and back to their headquarters about the situation and needs on the ground.

In addition, TSF's telecoms specialists offered humanitarian calling operations, reconnecting affected families with loved ones through free, 3-minute phone calls.

Click here to listen to a podcast from WFP's Coordination Officer on the ground in Haiti, and here to listen to Oison Watson of TSF describe their work in the devastated region.

Yangon, Myanmar (June 1, 2008): In May 2008, category 3 Cyclone Nargis tore through Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, killing over 130,000 people and causing catastrophic damage to the country's largest and most densely populated region. With communications networks across the area completely destroyed by the storm, relief workers' ability to act quickly to provide life-saving assistance was significantly hampered.

After weeks of delay by the Burmese government, telecommunications experts from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) successfully deployed to the region to establish emergency communications networks, finally providing relief workers with access to life-saving technology and telecommunications tools.

By establishing satellite-based internet and phone connections, computers, routers, fax machines and printers, WFP's emergency telecommunications centers enabled UN agencies and humanitarian organizations to quickly and efficiently coordinate essential relief efforts in the region, saving both time and lives.

Click here to listen to a podcast from WFP's Regional Telecommunications Officer on the ground in Yangon. 

Zambezi River Valley, Mozambique (February 5-March 26, 2008): In response to a second round of heavy flooding in the Zambezi River Valley, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) and the UN World Food Programme deployed teams of emergency telecommunications specialists to support recovery efforts in the area and surrounding regions. WFP’s ICT experts established emergency communications centers in neighboring Malawi as well as in Mozambique, where TSF also worked to establish emergency satellite-based telecoms systems. 

After weeks of heavy rains, over 100,000 people were displaced from their homes. In Caia, the worst hit area, 17 resettlement centers were wiped out after the river reached 3 meters above flood level.

The emergency telecommunications systems established by WFP and TSF provided aid agencies with broadband connectivity for the Internet, email, voice and fax lines. These lines of communication made it possible to quickly coordinate recovery efforts in the already devastated region.

Click here to listen to a podcast about TSF's Oison Walton in Mozambique and here to hear from WFP's Robert Kasca working on the ground on Malawi. 

Bolivia (January 26-February 9, 2008): Months of heavy rains in Bolivia forced rivers to overflow their banks in more than 9 districts throughout the southern region of the country. As a result of the enduring rains and floods, at least 30 people were killed, over 40,000 families affected, and crops, roads, and communications systems destroyed.

In response to the Bolivian government's official declaration of a national state of emergency, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) immediately deployed a team of telecommunications specialists to support and help coordinate recovery efforts in the region. 

TSF's rapid response communications team installed satellite-based telecommunications centers, offering broadband internet connections, phone, and fax lines to UN agencies and other humanitarian aid organizations working on the ground.

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