Controversy has marked the relief efforts in Myanmar's recent cyclone tragedy. One encouraging sign is that ITU satellite terminals are restoring vital communications links. The International Telecommunication Union has deployed 100 satellite terminals to help restore vital communication links in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar on May 2 with devastating effect in Yangon and the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region.
Thousands were killed, and thousands more are injured and missing. High winds cut electricity and destroyed roads and communications links, hampering the coordination and delivery of assistance. 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 easily transported by road and air to be used both by humanitarian workers and the victims of this disaster.
"I am very disturbed by the high frequency of disasters across the globe," said Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau. "This particular disaster, like the tsunami of 2004, struck on a weekend when most of the agencies that could provide assistance least expected it." Expressing his deep condolences to the government and people of Myanmar, Mr Al Basheer said: "I am however, heartened by the fact that ITU was one of the very first agencies to arrive in Myanmar with telecommunications resources."
The rapid deployment was made possible under the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies. Mr Tin Htwe, Director General, Posts and Telecommunications Department of Myanmar said, "In the light of the level of damage caused by Nargis, we warmly welcome ITU's offer of assistance."
Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of ITU's Division for Emergency Telecommunications said: "In confronting the global challenge of climate change, we are intensifying our activities in integrating information and communication technologies in disaster preparedness, including early warning and disaster relief, so as to save human lives. Since July last year, we have provided ICT relief services to the Americas, Africa, and Asia and Pacific regions."
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, for high-speed data. ITU pays for all expenses, including transportation of the equipment and usage.
Call for partners
Emergency telecommunications is the key for government and humanitarian aid agencies involved in rescue operations, medical assistance and recovery. ITU invites humanitarian agencies, the private sector, and development partners to enter into sustainable partnership arrangements with ITU to finance the timely deployment of telecommunications/ICT resources aimed at saving lives across the globe.