Guest Blogger | GSMA | Mon, 11 May 2015 15:38:59 +0000

This blog post was originally published on the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ETC) website on 6th May. The GSMA Disaster Response programme supports the work of, and has observer status to, the Cluster (photo taken from the ETC website). 

Following the 7.9 magnitude earthquake which struck Nepal, the response community quickly mobilised essential aid, from food and water to shelter and medical supplies. Now, 10 days after the quake, as the humanitarian population swells to meet the urgent needs of the affected communities, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is providing shared internet services at five sites, with more planned for the coming week.

“Right now our focus is to quickly set-up reliable Wi-Fi connectivity in key locations where humanitarians are working,†says Oscar Caleman, deployed as ETC Coordinator in Nepal. “In parallel, we are coordinating with local service providers to see that connections are restored, or even extended, to where they are needed.â€

Internet in the most remote, and worst affected, areas

Within days of the earthquake, a full ETC team had arrived on the ground with responders from emergency.lu, Ericsson Response, NetHope and World Food Programme (WFP) FITTEST.

Using emergency.lu inflatable satellite antennas, with connectivity managed and distributed by Ericsson Response WIDER, internet services have now been established for humanitarians responding in Deurali and Chautara, two areas worst affected by the earthquake.

“On our way to Chautara, we saw villages that had been completely flattened,†says Rob Buurveld, deployed as ETC Technical Specialist. “There are a lot of old style houses made from stone and wood that had completely collapsed. There were heaps of people who have come down from remote villages and were just sitting by the side of the road, probably still in shock from what has happened.â€

Three shared internet sites have also been established in Kathmandu, the logistics and coordination hub for this operation. The ETC has coordinated with local Internet Services Provider, Subisu, to provide a 100MB fibre connection, which is distributed and managed using WIDER, at the Humanitarian Staging Area (HSA), On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) at UN House and UN Airport Reception Centre.

Over 150 humanitarians have already registered to use ETC connectivity across the five sites.

Mountain of Challenges

Nepal is a country characterised by vast mountain ranges and picturesque remote locations. It is these features however that pose the greatest challenge to relief operations. The only airport in the country capable of accommodating large aircraft that bring in vital relief supplies is in Kathmandu, hundreds of kilometres away from where aid is needed.

“One of the big differences between this and other operations is the remoteness of affected areas,†says Gisli Olafsson, deployed as ETC NGO Coordinator in Nepal. “It was a challenge firstly to get teams into the country because the airport in Kathmandu could not physically accommodate any more aircraft. Now getting equipment and people out to the right places is proving difficult too.â€

The ETC is working with the Logistics Cluster to overcome transport and access challenges.

A Model for Future Emergencies

For years, the response community had been preparing for a large-scale earthquake which was predicted to strike Kathmandu. The ETC Working Group in Nepal was well-established before the disaster, with strong participation not only from humanitarian organisations, but also internet and mobile services providers, and government authorities. This existing cooperation across the ICT network has been invaluable, with all partners readily engaging and collaborating for a more effective response.

“As the ETC, we intervene to provide temporary services only,†says Oscar. “Here in Nepal we are providing an interim solution until local operators can get their services back online. The collaboration with service providers has been excellent and we are all working very closely together with the government to ensure restoration of essential communications services.â€

Offers of extended fibre-optic connections, use of company offices as internet cafés and numerous pre-loaded sim cards – all at no cost to the humanitarian community – are flowing in to the ETC from local service providers, including Subisu, Ncell and Nepal Telecom.

This model of response readiness, partnership and collaboration between humanitarian organisations, internet and mobile service providers, and government authorities is one being pursued by the ETC as part of its 2020 strategy.

“No two emergencies are ever the same,†says Oscar. “Each one brings its own challenges and opportunities too. The way in which humanitarian organisations, private sector companies and government authorities are working together in this operation is exemplary and something that we as the ETC hope to be able to replicate in disaster-prone countries across the world.â€

The ETC is a global network of organisations that work together in emergencies to provide shared communications services to the humanitarian community. The ETC was activated in Nepal to provide reliable emergency security communications and internet connectivity services to the humanitarian community, improving their ability to coordinate and respond in areas affected by the earthquake. By 2020, the ETC will create an emergency response environment that provides humanitarians, citizens and governments with a seamless, resilient and principled communications experience.