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In the wake of Idai: Where things stand one month later

Our work with ECT and of our members and partners who have been instrumental in keeping communications flowing following Cyclone Idai and where work continues.

April 26, 2019

Tropical Cyclone Kenneth is now lashing the already savaged nation of Mozambique, with 700,000 people in its path and promising more devastation due to flooding. For responders to stay connected is vital to helping rescue, feed, and shelter those impacted by storms such as this. After the destruction caused by tropical Cyclone Idai, NetHope deployed and assisted the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ECT) of which NetHope is a long-term partner. The following is detail of our work with ECT and of our members and partners who have been instrumental in keeping communications flowing following Cyclone Idai and where work continues.

By Gisli Olafsson, Humanitarian Advisor, NetHope

It is now just over a month since Tropical Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique and affected the lives of over two million people, most of them already living under the poverty line. The damage from the wind was substantial. More than 90 percent of houses in the capital of Beira, where the cyclone made landfall, lost parts or all their roofs. But as those of us who have deployed in the aftermath of hurricanes or cyclones know, it is the water, both rain and storm surges, that cause the biggest damage.

The path of the cyclone inland caused torrential rainfall in areas that had already been soaked in preceding weeks by monsoon rains. Dams were already brimming at their limits and when the downpour from the cyclone was added, rivers flooded and caused people to climb trees and roofs of sturdier houses to save their lives.

LP Svensson with Ericsson Response interacts with residents affected by Cyclone Idai.

As images and reports from affected areas began reaching the outside world, the government of Mozambique requested the support of the international community. NetHope, a long-term partner of the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ETC), responded by deploying Rami Shakra, NetHope’s Global Programs Director for Field Operations,to help coordinate the telecommunication needs of the NGO community.

In the first few weeks of the response, the focus was on rescuing people stranded by the floods and providing life-saving activities. Due to severe access constraints caused by floodwater and damage to roads, support to those affected was mainly provided through airdrops of relief items from helicopters brought in by the UN and the government of Mozambique.

As relief organizations from around the world arrived in Beira, the central point for the operations, a portion of the international airport in Beira was transformed into a humanitarian coordination center. The ETC with support from its partners was able to provide connectivity through satellite.

With more organizations arriving and the local internet service provider able to restore fiber connectivity near the airport, the internet connection at the coordination center was upgraded from the initial 8 Mbps connection provided through a GATR satellite system from and replaced with a 100 Mbps fiber connection from the local provider TMCell.

This additional bandwidth enabled the ETC to start providing connectivity to organizations operating outside of the airport by using wireless distribution methods based on unregulated WiFi frequencies. In total over 15 locations inside Beira were connected through this approach.

By the third week, water was starting to recede and the roads were getting emergency repairs. This meant that humanitarian organizations were able to move their operations outside of Beira and into the affected areas inland.

As a result, the ETC and partners started providing connectivity in towns and villages where a concentration of humanitarian organizations were operating, such as Nhamatanda, Buzi, and Grudja. In those areas satellite connectivity was the only available option. Backhaul from those satellites, provided by and Eutelsat, is then distributed to operational locations within the towns, again using unregulated wireless technologies. An amazing team of volunteers from Ericsson Response is responsible for installation and management of these.

A month into the response, commercially available connectivity within Beira is becoming available. As a result, some of the connections initially established by ETC and any new connection requests within Beira are now being handed over to the local internet service providers.

Working very closely with the ETC, NetHope's role has been coordinating the connectivity efforts for the NGO community as well as leading all interaction with the local internet and mobile network service providers. A month into the response, over 18 NetHope member locations in the affected areas have been connected through support from NetHope and the ETC.

The role of the ETC NGO Coordinator is one of juggling many balls at ones. The key is interaction with all the different humanitarian and private sector actors on the ground. This involves attending the various coordination meetings that occur on a daily basis; it involves reaching out to the NGOs and letting them know about our presence here and what we can do to help them with their operations.

Another key aspect of the role of an NGO Coordinator is being part of the various assessments being done, in particular the affected areas inland. As the other ETC partners focus on the technical parts of the assessments, the NGO Coordinator focuses on identifying and interacting with the NGOs and other humanitarian organizations operating in the place being assessed.

Through this work, a list of potential sites to provide internet services to is established and a plan for distribution of the internet from the backhaul installed is put in place. When that plan is ready and all the equipment has been gathered, the next task is securing transportation of the equipment and installation personnel to the location.

The days are long during humanitarian operations. It is not uncommon for those of us responding to be waking up around 5am to work on emails before showing up at the operation center at 7 a.m. as the first coordination meetings start taking place around 7:30 a.m. and continue throughout the day.

At 9 a.m., there is an overall coordination meeting where the various clusters provide a quick update on key actions. The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, which is supporting the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in coordinating the response, provides overview of the general situation and gives out the key directions for the coordination.

These overall meetings are then followed by various cluster and working group meetings that focus on different parts of the response. In between meetings, various one-on-one interactions are ongoing, ensuring things are operationally moving forward.

Most days, work within the operation centers lasts until around 7 p.m., when people try to grab some food before dealing with emails from their colleagues in the U.S., where the day has just begun. Accommodation is in limited supply in Beira and many responders are sleeping as a group in small rooms on mattresses, couches, and sharing beds.

Only now, a month into the response, organizations are starting to reduce working days from seven per week to six. This long-deserved ability for rest is welcomed by the responders who have been here since the start.

The work continues in Mozambique.

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