Haiti aid agencies call for ICT help
International agencies are mobilising to provide much needed communications infrastructure in Haiti following last week's devastating earthquake, as relief workers struggle to manage the aftermath in what was already on of the world’s most deprived countries.
“Communication appears to be almost impossible at this time, with phone lines down,” said a statement from Telecommunications Without Frontiers (TWF).
TWF specialises in providing communications infrastructure both to support relief efforts and for use by survivors to tell friends and relatives that they are safe. It has dispatched a team to Port-au-Prince from its base for the Americas.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is also sending members of its dedicated communications group to Haiti to support its own and other agencies’ work.
The urgent need for even basic co-ordination has been underlined by stories of supplies and relief workers still waiting at the airport in Port-au-Prince last Friday, three days after the disaster, because there is no-one and no centralised network over which to tell them where to go, provide security reports or link their efforts with those of other support groups.
The Haitian government has effectively collapsed and the United Nations compound is in ruins, with many of its staff still missing. TV networks have frequently been reduced to running their reports over satellite phones and have become an unofficial route by which survivors have sent messages to family outside the country, particularly in the USA and France. CNN is attempting to provide some information on its website.
With the aid effort moving so slowly, there is growing concern over the spread of disease and the potential for serious civil unrest. Bodies litter the streets and are rapidly becoming a health hazard in the tropical heat. There is an extreme shortage of medical services and drugs. Looters and criminals are spreading panic in the hope of stealing possessions in the ensuing chaos and survivors’ anger at the pace of the relief work is growing.
The Red Cross currently estimates fatalities from the earthquake at between 45,000 and 50,000, but there is concern that deaths after the disaster could match or exceed that toll.
As the situation in Haiti threatens to become unmanageable, both TWF and the WFP have repeated their ongoing appeals for aid in the form of ICT equipment and expertise.
TWF has its headquarters in Pau, South West France
Tel: +33 (0) 5 59 84 43 60
The WFP is based in Rome, Italy
Tel: +39 06 65131
Read more about the work of Telecommunications Without Frontiers here.