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Telecom Playing Critical Role in Aftermath of Cyclone Idai

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Multiple governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as businesses, are racing against time to rescue and help the populations in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi that have been affected by Cyclone Idai, and restoring the telecommunications infrastructure is one of their priorities.

The United Nations estimates that up to 3 million people in the three southern African countries could have been affected by Cyclone Idai. While Mozambique is worst hit, parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi have also suffered high casualties and massive damage. UN agencies, local governments, as well as private sector organizations and NGOs providing aid have focused a great deal of effort on bringing telecoms connectivity back to the areas where people have been stranded and cut off by the disaster.

Cyclone Idai has left devastation in its wake.
Cyclone Idai has left devastation in its wake.

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), an umbrella global network of organizations that collaborate to provide communication services in natural and humanitarian emergencies, has seen its partners actively involved in the relief and rescue work. The ITU, one of its partners, has already delivered 30 satellite phones from Iridium Satellite Communications to Mozambique and is in the process of sending 20 satellite phones to Zimbabwe. Ericsson Response and the Government of Luxembourg have deployed ICT equipment in Beira, in addition to the emergency connectivity provided by Télécoms Sans Frontière.

Mobile operators in the affected countries are also doing their part. Less than a week after the landfall of the cyclone, Mozambique Telecom had already partially restored mobile phone service in Beira and is working to restore communications to other affected areas in central Mozambique.

In Zimbabwe, telecom operator Econet Zimbabwe has launched a campaign to raise funds to support the affected population in the provinces of Manicaland, Mashonaland East and Masvingo. The campaign raised 50,000 RTGS dollars (the new currency in Zimbabwe) in the first 24 hours, and the company promised to match individual donations dollar-for-dollar. Despite recent rumors that Econet is withdrawing its relief efforts due to some political disputes, the company came out to reaffirm its continued commitment to the rescue and aid work, saying its staff are on the ground, and helicopters have been despatched to deliver relief goods, reported local media outlet Bulawayo 24.

The country's fixed line operator TelOne also raised $100,000 worth of medicines to contribute the relief effort.

In Malawi, immediately after the country was hit by the cyclone, the mobile operator Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) donated K8.7 million (US$12,000) worth of relief items to the victims through the Red Cross. Executives from TNM said it is confident the donation would be put to good use as their collaborations have shown in the recent past, reported The Maravi Post. The operator is also providing free airtime for the Red Cross staff during the disaster relief efforts.

"When disasters do strike, there is no country that can do it alone," said Cosmas Zavazava, chief of the projects and knowledge management department at the ITU's Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D), back in 2017 when the organization was learning lessons from rescue work after a series of hurricanes hit the Caribbean islands. He stressed that the ITU is committed to the of "Build Back Better" concept, which means post-disaster recovery aims to improve the systems on those that were in place previously.

— Wei Shi, Site Editor, Connecting Africa

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