After three weeks of on-site activities in support of the humanitarian organisations and the people affected by the earthquake that hit southwestern Haiti on August 14, TSF's mission comes to an end.
TSF arrived in the country the day after the earthquake which caused more than 2200 deaths and coordinated with the various telecom organisations to ensure a reliable connection at the National Emergency Operations Center (COUN) in the capital Port-au-Prince. This connection was essential for the large number of humanitarians arriving each day, but especially for the UN team (UNDAC) in support of the government for needs assessment and coordination of all humanitarians active in the country.
The urge to help was strong, but so were the security constraints. Getting to the various affected areas was particularly difficult because of the presence of gangs blocking the roads and threatening convoys. In addition, only four days after the earthquake, storm Grace hit the country with heavy rains that damaged the roads. Nevertheless, after a few days, the TSF team joined the first convoys heading to the southwest of the country.
And so, despite the challenges, TSF installed a broadband satellite connection in the first humanitarian coordination center in Les Cayes, the main city in one of the most affected areas. The coordination center quickly became the reference point where humanitarian organisations could work and use a reliable connection. "*It is crucial to have internet to manage all the information and to coordinate everything*," shared a team member of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). At the same time, TSF installed a second satellite connection at the operational center of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Les Cayes. Since the local network was unstable, TSF's connection was essential to ensure that the supply of equipment needed to treat patients could continue without interruption. This connection will support MSF’s operations in the area for at least three months.
In parallel, a TSF team carried out mobile Wi-Fi operations for isolated communities in the surroundings of Les Cayes, in order to provide Internet connectivity for a few hours to the populations affected by the earthquake. Faced with Covid-19 and its constraints, the team adapted and focused on mobile Wi-Fi operations that ensured the protection of beneficiaries. These operations covered mainly the villages of Corail Henry and Sucrerie Henry, where the network was out of service and damage was extensive. Most of the houses were destroyed, leaving the residents with no option but to sleep in makeshift shelters in very precarious conditions. In view of this situation, even just seeing someone reach their village was a source of relief and deep gratitude. “You are the first ones to come to here”, the people in Corail Henry-haut told us with sincere and warm smiles. When the team was setting up the equipment for the operations, the communities would start gathering around the equipment and watching amazed. A video call of one person becomes in a few seconds a group call for the whole community, resulting in big smiles. Thankful sentences “It is very important for us. A very big thank you!”, people who have the possibility to share photos and information about their difficult situation with their personal network. It is with these words and the memory of these smiles that the mission in Haiti comes to an end.
Once the phase of emergency response was covered, both for the humanitarian coordination and for the population, TSF’s team left the country. TSF remains in contact with the organisations supported during the mission in order to monitor the connections installed and provide remote assistance if necessary.