Emergency call

Télécoms Sans Frontières provides communication to victims of disasters and emergencies all over the world. George Bevir speaks with the founders about the origins of the organisation and what it needs from operators and vendors in the Middle East and Africa to help it establish a base in the region.

Tags: Disaster reliefEmergencyFranceTélécoms Sans FrontiéresVodafone Group
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Emergency call Locals gather around a satellite phone in Bughdada, Pakistan during one of TSF’s recent mission in the country in June 2009.
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By  George Bevir Published  October 18, 2009 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Evaluation and assessment

When TSF arrives in one of the world’s trouble spots its priority is to establish a satellite connection to provide relief workers with communications, helping them to establish a field office complete with computers and printers. After that, the NGO provides satellite lines for people to call their family to reassure them they are ok, or to ask for money. Before leaving the field TSF makes sure that telecommunications are operational and can form part of the post emergency operation, either through the reestablishment of the local network, or the handover of the telecom centres to a local organisation for the long term.

 Last month both Cazenave and Lanne-Petit visited Burkina Faso to look into setting up a development project 60km from Ouagadougou, where heavy floods had affected the country at the start of the month, killing seven and displacing 150,000. The TSF team conducted an assessment with a local relief organisation and in collaboration with the United Nations coordinator in Ouagadougou. Although no major telecom issues were identified, Lanne-Petit says that TSF is on standby to deploy in the area if necessary.

Entry problems

 Not all countries welcome TSF’s assistance; in May 2009 Sri Lanka was the focus of an evaluation and assessment mission, but the NGO hasn’t received the necessary visas and is still waiting to enter the country.

 A spokeswoman for TSF explains: “It is just like any humanitarian organisation – there are some countries that are hard to work in. We also have one more issue, in that we are working with quite sensitive equipment, and in a war context it’s not always easy to enter a country with a whole bunch of satellite equipment. Just like any humanitarian organisation we tried to deploy in Myanmar in 2008 after the cyclone, but like everyone else we couldn’t work there.”

 TSF is supported by institutions such as the European Commission, the UN Foundation and Vodafone Group’s Foundation, as well as through corporate partnerships with telecom and satellite companies including Inmarsat, Eutelsat, PCCW Global, AT&T, Cable & Wireless and Vizada.

The main support that TSF needs from telecom companies is funding, but it would like to have a computer equipment supplier provide the hardware that is vital when setting up field offices for other NGOs.

Although TSF welcomes donations of equipment from telecom vendors, for example from satellite suppliers, it is the financial support that makes the NGO “truly independent”, giving it the ability to deploy anywhere in the world without having to wait for government approval, Cazenave says. It also makes the organisation more credible in the eyes of institutions like the European Commission (EC), he adds.

“The more funding we have, the better we can work and save lives by responding quickly and independently to emergencies, implementing more development projects.”

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