ITU helping Haiti restore telecommunications

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Phone lines and cell phone towers are among the casualties in Port-au-Prince, after the worst earthquake in the region in 200 years. The International Telecommunication Union, the ITU, has announced that it is deploying equipment and experts to establish emergency telecommunications services in the affected areas. Bissera Kostova spoke to ITU's Chief of Emergency Telecommunications, Cosmas Zavazava, about the operation.

Zavazava: ITU, as the specialized agency of the United Nations in providing information and communications technologies has allocated a budget of slightly over one million US dollars for purposes of deploying telecommunications resources by way of satellite based solutions, which are capable of providing voice communications and high speed data, which can be used, of course, for telemedicine facilities to help the injured and those who are maimed.

Kostova: And how big is your intervention going to be?

Zavazava: One is to deploy a unit which can provide coverage for cellular communications, so mobile communications will be provided and the estimated cost of that will be something slightly over half a million dollars. Then, we are going to provide also some hand-held mobile units for satellite, which are broadband and these will be slightly over 60 units that will be deployed and can operate independently or in a network. And these are also capable of providing both voice and telemedicine facilities and other e-applications.

Kostova: So what will that mean for the residents of the city? Will they have their cell service restored or it's only for the emergency operations?

Zavazava: People will be able to call their loved ones who are not in the affected areas to tell them that they are okay. Relief and humanitarian organizations will be able also to make phone calls and to send messages and that will be free. Government agencies will also be able to coordinate logistics and other operations using this equipment. And we will have that equipment there. Then, in the aftermath, we will be able also to look at the damage that has been done to the network and once we have done that we'll be helping them to resuscitate and rehabilitate the telecommunications networks, so that they can go to normal service.

Kostova: And how will people know where to go? Who is coordinating this on the ground?

Zavazava: We are going to have our officials and engineers there and what we will do is we are going to be working with the Telecommunications regulatory authority, as well as the ministry concerned and the relevant departments dealing with disaster management in order to avoid duplication of effort and we are going to have these people on the ground and it's going to be highly publicized by various means of communications, so that the people are well aware that we have set up public calling centres and we have got facilities that are going to be used. I think the most important element is that of setting up public communications offices that will be used by citizens.

Kostova: And how were you able to respond so quickly? Did you have this equipment on stand-by? Have you done this before in other emergencies?

Zavazava: Yes, ITU has been in the forefront of providing timely deployment of equipment. I would say that since the time of the tsunami we have been able to perfect the response effort and we are ready even in the absence of a disaster. By the way, we help countries also to set up national emergency telecommunications plans, so that they have got standard operating procedures, before the disasters do strike. They can carry out rehearsals and drills and simulations, so that when the actual disaster does strike, you can mitigate human suffering and loss of human life. So we are able to do this, because we've got a standby fund, which is there to finance such operations when disasters strike and we have got a whole set of various kinds of equipment, which is on standby just to help member states to effectively respond to disasters. And I would say that we have got operations ongoing right now in about seven countries, including Indonesia, Samoa, Tonga, Zambia, and a few other countries that have been recently hit by earthquakes, floods, and other forms of disaster.

Kostova: And I assume that you will now work with Haiti on that, too?

Zavazava: Yes, we are well prepared now to respond and to assist Haiti, considering the magnitude of the disaster and we will do everything possible. Our Secretary-General has indicated that he's allocating as much funding as required, to make sure that we respond in a big way and make sure that people will be able to communicate when they want to communicate, because as you well know, in a situation such as this, the transmission of vital information in a timely manner and in a reliable way is quite critical for everybody - doctors, if they are providing help to the injured, and to the relatives, so they don't suffer from anxiety and also to all the people, who are there - UNHCR, who are providing services to people who are internally displaced, and many other agencies that are on the ground, NGOs, civil society and everybody else.

ITU's Chief of Emergency Telecommunications, Cosmas Zavazava in Geneva.

Producer: Bissera Kostova

Duration: 4'44"