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Communications saves lives, brings hope after Haiti earthquake

March 1, 2010

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Most of us can’t imagine a day without our phone, mobile network, Internet, or television. But imagine what that would be like in an emergency. How would you cope if you were left completely disconnected during one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters?

After a deadly earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, millions of people faced this isolating reality. The quake crippled the country’s communication infrastructure, severely impeding relief efforts and leaving survivors disconnected from each other and the outside world.

“When we first arrived in Haiti after the earthquake hit, there were no telephone lines, no internet connections, and no satellite connection ...conditions were rudimentary and the task that lay ahead of us was immense,” said Oscar Caleman of the UN World Food Programme.

Immediately following the disaster, two teams of telecommunications and technology experts from Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) deployed to Haiti with support from the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership.

From the epicenter of the crisis, both teams set up satellite-based phone and internet lines for UN and other humanitarian groups struggling to communicate and coordinate the distribution of vital aid and supplies.

In addition to providing crucial technology for aid workers, TSF also offered survivors the chance to call family and loved ones for the first time since the earthquake hit. In the three weeks after the disaster, TSF used mobile satellite equipment to provide free, 3-minute international phone calls to more than 5,000 families.

As Shirley Lafleur, a 24-year-old mother in Port-au-Prince, reports: “My mother, my baby, and I are still alive and we need help. Thanks to TSF’s calling operations, I was able to get in touch with my sister in Orlando, in the USA, to tell her about our situation and ask for money to survive. This call was essential to me.”

In emergencies, communications can save lives and bring hope. The UN Foundation, through its partnership with The Vodafone Foundation, is ensuring that these life-saving connections continue to be made available when and where they are needed most.