Kyrgyzstan Update: Emergency Telecommunications

Since June 11, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled their homes in Kyrgyzstan, escaping violent clashes between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks which broke out in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. An estimated 100,000 people – 90% of them women and children – have sought refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan, and authorities estimate that an additional 300,000 people have been internally displaced. The suddenness of the crisis has left NGOs and international humanitarian agencies scrambling to respond in real-time, with little preparation and pre-positioning of supplies and personnel. A key element of organizing and implementing a successful emergency response has to do with telecommunications. A functional communications system is indispensable for humanitarian organizations to organize and monitor aid distribution, and coordinate between various offices. As IT needs assessments are still underway in the region, some organizations were able to respond instantaneously to the pressing telecommunications requirements of the large-scale humanitarian response to the unfolding crisis.

In an effort to support this dimension of the humanitarian intervention, telecommunications experts from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) are being deployed along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border to provide IT services. With funding from the Vodafone Foundation and the United Nations Foundation, the two organizations are establishing emergency communications centers equipped with satellite-based phone, internet and radio lines.  This technology allows humanitarian agencies to efficiently coordinate the delivery of food aid and supplies to thousands in need of assistance. In addition, other actors are also launching communication and coordination mechanisms in response to the emergency situation. Ushahidi, for example, has set up a new online platform which allows real-time tracking and reporting of incidents of violence to help people navigate safely and keep rumors from inflaming the situation further.

In Kyrgyzstan, TSF is providing emergency communications support to UN agencies and NGOs such as ACTED and Save the Children, in coordination with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, ECHO . The organization is also offering free, three-minute satellite phone calls for families separated or displaced by the conflict.  Along the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan, WFP is reinforcing emergency communications systems to power humanitarian interventions for thousands of refugees fleeing the ongoing violence.

The WFP does not currently have an office in Uzbekistan. Dalia Mansour, IT Officer for the Cairo office of the WFP,  has the mission to conduct an IT assessment in order to establish a new office, which will facilitate food distributions to the people displaced by the fighting and provide a base for associated operations such as logistics, IT and communications.

Mansour recently graduated from the IT Emergency Management training program, which was funded by the Vodafone Foundation, United Nations Foundation and WFP partnership for emergency communications. This program prepares responders for what they will face in the field, and trains IT officers from UN agencies and NGOs in how to effectively and efficiently manage the IT response in an emergency situation. Having these trained specialists ready for deployment allows organizations like the WFP to respond swiflty and efficiently when a humanitarian crisis arises, and helps streamline the emergency response.