ITU, Thuraya step up communications role in disaster mitigation and relief

The ITU and Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company have concluded an agreement to provide portable satellite terminals to assist countries in disaster mitigation and relief.

Thuraya, a United Arab Emirates satellite-based company, will contribute handheld satellite terminals along with solar chargers, while ITU will firstly pay for airtime at discounted rates offered by Thuraya then cover the transportation costs of telecoms equipment to and from disaster-hit areas, and finally provide its expertise in technical and operational training for government officials involved in rescue missions.  

Recent natural disasters and calamities led the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-06) meeting in Doha in March 2006 to urge the ITU to develop ICT-based solutions in emergency telecommunications. These would improve early-warning communication, disaster preparedness and mitigation, crucial for countries with fragile economies and special needs, e.g., the least developed countries and small island developing states.  

ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi explained: "The tsunami that wreaked havoc in South-East Asia , the Kashmir earthquake, the Surinam floods, and the Indonesia earthquake have demonstrated the power of emergency telecommunications in saving lives and coordinating efforts during rescue operations such as the setting up of telemedicine links."  

How can information provision help?  

Access to information is paramount in the immediate aftermath of a disaster as relief agencies coordinate search-and-rescue, medical intervention and rehabilitation efforts. There is an urgent need to establish effective and comprehensive communication links between the affected area, national disaster response facilities, and with the wider international community. Ironically, during the very first hours of a major disaster terrestrial communication links are almost always disabled and disrupted. 

Thuraya's terminals, supporting voice and data applications and remote location determination services via GPS, will help provide that vital link via satellite. When regular cellular networks are available, the GSM-enabled Thuraya handsets can automatically switch to the terrestrial network for greater affordability.  

"One of the pillars leading to the success of our work in this area rests on multi-stakeholder partnerships," declared Cosmas Zavazava, ITU Focal Point for Emergency Telecommunications: "It is in this respect that we welcome the contribution by Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, a member of ITU's Development Sector."  

Thuraya CEO Yousuf Al Sayed agreed that the responsiveness of relief efforts can be made more effective through such partnerships: "Thuraya is committed to contributing towards world needs during rescue and emergency operations, and we are pleased to partner and work closely with ITU and concerned UN agencies to provide urgent communications support in disaster-hit areas - the responsiveness of relief efforts can be made much more efficient through such partnerships."  

One final step will be ITU's providing the Thuraya satellite handheld terminals to rescue teams, government authorities and humanitarian agencies in order to establish vital communication links for relief and rehabilitation efforts. The communication link will also help victims locate their families and seek personal assistance.

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