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Uganda flood victims receive ITU telecoms links; ITU launches Saving Lives meeting

ITU has deployed 25 satellite terminals to help restore vital communication links in the aftermath of severe floods that have affected the eastern and northern regions of Uganda since August this year. Several districts have been ravaged by torrential rains and flash floods that swept through the country, taking lives, marooning over 140,000 people, destroying road and communication links, and submerging crops, compelling the Government to declare a state of emergency.

With the restoration of communication links, designated government officials and other humanitarian agencies are able to more efficiently coordinate relief operations. The mobile terminals are transported by helicopter to serve people most in need.

"I noted with concern and sadness the suffering and destruction that has been caused by floods that hit the eastern and northern regions of Uganda," said Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau. "There is no doubt that communication links are essential to ensure a more effective and coordinated relief effort. This is why we have, on request from the Uganda Communications Commission, quickly deployed the resources at our disposal."

Patrick Masambu, Executive Director for the Uganda Communications Commission, said: "The satellite terminals to be used in the areas which were severely affected by the floods are very timely and will go a long way in facilitating the relief efforts in the affected areas."

Cosmas Zavazava, Head of ITU's Division for Emergency Telecommunications said: "It is clear that we are making a difference on the ground. For the past three months, we have had to deploy telecommunications resources for disaster mitigation in three different regions. In August, we deployed in Peru following an earthquake; in September we deployed in Bangladesh where floods had wreaked havoc; and now we have had to intervene in Uganda. Telecommunications can save lives when natural disasters strike."

ITU is providing both Thuraya hand-held satellite phones and Inmarsat Global Area Network (GAN) terminals. The Thuraya satellite phones use both satellite and GSM networks and also provide accurate GPS positioning coordinates to aid relief and rescue. The Inmarsat GAN terminals are mainly used for voice communications and, in some cases, can be used for high-speed data. ITU pays for all expenses, including transportation of the equipment and usage.

Emergency telecoms is key for government and humanitarian aid agencies involved in rescue operations, medical assistance and recovery. ITU will host a global forum on "Effective use of telecommunications/ICT for disaster management: saving lives" in Geneva, Switzerland from 10-12 December 2007. A number of key innovative emergency telecoms initiatives will be launched to ensure timely intervention of telecoms-based resources before, during and after disasters strike. The event will bring together senior government officials, CEOs from the telecommunications industry, UN agencies, and non-governmental organisations.

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