Satellite communications aid humanitarian forces

Satellite telephone communications systems have proven themselves with peace-keepers in Kosovo and aid-workers in India, says Inmarsat

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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 10, 2001

Satellite communications company Inmarsat has been providing essential support to humanitarian efforts around the globe. Its satellite telephone systems have been used India and the Balkans to provide vital communications for peace-keepers and aid workers, says Mohammed El Amin, regional director for Inmarsat MENA.

One of the unseen elements of international relief efforts is the need for emergency communications. Whether conducting peace keeping operations or providing disaster recovery, organisations face huge problems because of a lack of communications due to either remote locations or the destruction of existing infrastructure. In the past, there was little military or medical organisations could do to deal with the problem, but now civilian satellite systems, such as those provided by Inmarsat, are being called in to help.

Inmarsat recently provided satellite phones to aid workers in the Himachal Pradesh region of India, where flash floods had killed over 100 people. The phones provided effective communication to co-ordinate deployment of emergency supplies of grain and medicine.
One of the biggest problems faced by United Nations peace-keeping forces in the past was that diversity of communications equipment between different country’s militaries made communications slow and overly complex.

In the past this had jeopardised operations. However, when NATO forces liberated the Kosovo enclave, UN-mandated telecomms engineers went with them to put Inmarsat satellite telephones in place. The fixed telephone system had been completely destroyed, and the mobile telephone system was out of order. Although international agreements prevent the civilian satellite system, which was deployed by Telecoms sans Frontiers, from being used for military activities, the system was put to use in co-ordinating logistics and operations for the peace-keeping force, El Amin explained.

The system is still in place. “Aid operations, often in areas where communications are inadequate or non-existent, continue long after world-attention has moved on,” he said. “As has been evidenced in Kosovo, Inmarsat can provide the level of communications necessary to cope with the massive logistics of long-term aid.”

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