World Telecommunications Day'97
Telecommunications and humanitarian assistance
[Telecommunications in Relief | Your Relief Operation]
Telecommunications in Relief
The theme of 'Telecommunications and Humanitarian Affairs' focuses on the vital and growing link between telecommunications and the emergency relief operations which follow natural and man-made disasters, such as cyclones, earthquakes, or wars.
Disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes or wars are often accompanied by the loss of communication links. This makes things even more difficult for the victims - it also makes the task of providing relief more difficult for relief workers.
The many different aid agencies working around the world have long relied heavily on telecommunications, both to keep in contact with disaster-struck areas, and to co-ordinate their own activities.
In relief operations telecommunication technologies are used to:
get information about the level of damage and the kind of assistance necessary
get information to victims and victims' relatives
co-ordinate team activities among relief workers in the field,
mobilize emergency actions such as evacuations
Radiocommunications, in particular, is a mainstay of many emergency relief operations, because
it is extremely reliable and does not depend on local infrastructure, such as phone lines
the equipment is portable
it is durable and capable of surviving through disasters
Mobile phones have increased in use and are already a great working tool in the field of humanitarian aid. Mobile phones are also
usable despite localized damage to the ordinary telephone network
Satellites help to provide information in situations where the assessment of damage is difficult.
For example, the SPOT satellite emergency programming facility was used to provide pictures of the disaster areas following the floods in central and southern Tunisia in January 1990. By comparing the pictures with others taken in June 1988, the flood damage could be comprehensively mapped.
Where there is widespread loss to the local telephone service, even mobile phones can be made useless. New kinds of systems currently under development have the potential to be of great help in such circumstances.
For example, a telecommunications system based around constellations of Low and Medium-Earth-Orbiting satellites is due for launch over the next five years. This will bring with it the promise of global mobile telephony, regardless of the whereabouts of the user, or even the existence of on-the-ground telecommunications infrastructure.