Tech charity quits Burma following government blocks

I have just received an update that Telecoms Sans Frontieres, a charity that specialises in setting up telecoms equipment in disaster zones has quit Burma in the face of repeated attempts to block its activity by the government.The group claims that Cyclone Nargis has killed at least 133,600 people and affected at least 2.

I have just received an update that Telecoms Sans Frontieres, a charity that specialises in setting up telecoms equipment in disaster zones has quit Burma in the face of repeated attempts to block its activity by the government.

The group claims that Cyclone Nargis has killed at least 133,600 people and affected at least 2.4m – making it the worst disaster since the Asian Tsunami in December 2004.

However the organisation's requests for authorisation to deploy to two of the most seriously affected areas – Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta - were blocked, leaving it with no choice but to pull out of the area.

This is a major blow to TSF and to the other agencies it supports. Without the telecoms infrastructure to communicate, provided by TSF and similar groups, the activity of other agencies on the ground in Burma will be affected. TSF also provides infrastructure to allow local people to contact relatives abroad – a vital service in the chaos following a natural disaster or conflict.

Here's the release in full:

Pau, 25 June 2008 - After 15 days in Myanmar, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) faced an unprecedented situation and decided to leave the country. TSF’s requests for authorizations to deploy to the Irrawaddy delta were not granted and as the organization was blocked in Yangon, TSF’s teams returned to their bases.

On June 1st, TSF obtained its first visas to enter Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis which hit the south western regions of the country on May 2nd and 3rd after having waited for more than a month at the border despite the scale of the disaster. TSF was first in charge of assessing telecommunication infrastructure and needs in the affected zones, particularly in the Irrawaddy Delta as part of an assessment mission of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). The AIT based in Bangkok is a partner of TSF since 2006. TSF’s Asian base is also situated on the AIT campus and students from the University are regularly part of TSF’s teams responding to emergencies in Asia and the Pacific.

To strengthen the organization’s operation and in expectation of an imminent deployment to the Irrawaddy zone, TSF sent an additional team on June 8th. This team was composed of two telecom specialists from TSF’s headquarters in Pau and one from the Asian Base in Bangkok. In coordination with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), TSF’s objective was to provide technical assistance and install back up communication solutions in three of the four humanitarian hubs in Laputta, Bogalay and Pathein right at the heart of affected zone. This support aimed at benefiting the entire humanitarian community working with those affected by providing all the necessary equipment to communicate and to better coordinate.

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is led by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Unicef and coordinated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). TSF was appointed First Responder of the ETC in 2006. The objective of the ETC is to mutualise and better coordinate resources from different agencies involved in emergency telecommunications leaving no emergency responder unconnected. Since 2006, TSF already responded to several emergencies in coordination with the ETC: in Indonesia, in Lebanon, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and more recently in Mozambique following heavy floods in February.

For more go to www.tsfi.org

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