Managing the humanitarian crisis in South Ossetia

by Adele Waugaman

It is important to remember that the Russian incursion into Georgia on August 8 has created not only a complex political situation but a humanitarian emergency that requires immediate attention. Aerial bombings and street fighting injured many and displaced waves of up to 100,000 civilians, according to estimates by the UN refugee agency. And, as we attempt to put the pieces back together, both the political negotiations and the humanitarian efforts will need world attention and support.

In recent days, both the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the non-profit group Télécoms Sans Frontiéres (TSF) have mobilized their emergency telecommunications services in support of the humanitarian relief efforts underway.WFP, the UN’s food relief agency, also is a leading provider of ICT services. On August 13 WFP teams in Georgia were sent a shipment of radios, satellite phones, and supplies to bolster communications networks damaged during the conflict and enable radio contact between humanitarian aid workers in the area.

On that same day, a team of four TSF emergency technicians arrived in Tbilisi to assess the communications needs of the humanitarian relief workers and affected civilians. TSF will support UN agencies on the ground such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), UNHCR (the UN refugee agency), WFP and UNICEF (the UN children’s agency). Depending on needs on the ground, TSF may launch a “humanitarian calling operation” to enable victims of the conflict to give news to family members, or request personalized assistance.

Both TSF and WFP deployments are supported by funds from the UN Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation Technology Partnership, which works toward harnessing the power of mobile technologies to support UN humanitarian work worldwide. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about how emergency communications help the aid workers and population affected by the conflict.