Satellite connectivity proves life saving

Stephen Kuper

Satellite communication is supporting the ongoing disaster relief efforts in south-eastern Africa two weeks after Cyclone Idai left a trail of destruction, satellite manufacturer Inmarsat has identified.

After heavy rains hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe on 14 March, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) – a global network of humanitarian, private sector and government organisations – activated the United Nations Connectivity Charter.

Under the charter, satellite operators, including Inmarsat, guarantee access to vital communications support in the event of disasters.

Inmarsat-sponsored Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) is also on the ground in the badly affected coastal region around Beira in Mozambique, where the telecommunications infrastructure was destroyed by winds of up to 200km/h.

The emergency telecoms agency team installed a Global Xpress (GX) terminal at the airport 48 hours after the tropical storm hit, giving humanitarian aid agencies a vital high-speed satellite internet connection to co-ordinate activities.

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Within two days, the number of users doubled from 350 to 796 and the amount of data exchanged tripled from 41GB to over 118GB. As a result, TSF has installed a second GX terminal at the co-ordination centre.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which is co-ordinating UK charities’ Cyclone Idai appeal, estimates that 2.5 million people across the affected region are in need of help. Flooding remains severe and the full scale of the disaster has yet to become clear as search and rescue operations continue into areas that remain inaccessible other than by air. 

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