The Importance of Connectivity in a Humanitarian Crisis

Vodacom Group’s Chief Officer of International Markets Diego Gutierrez talks about the importance of connectivity in times of natural disasters, social unrest or other humanitarian emergencies.

In times of crisis, mobile networks and the connectivity they provide can be a lifeline for those affected by natural disasters, social unrest or other humanitarian emergencies. In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, humanitarian responders and affected populations urgently need the right information to help them react quickly to changing circumstances and make informed decisions. Access to information can be as important as access to food, water, medicine and shelter.

The power of mobile communication and connectivity was evident in the aftermath of the two large tropical cyclones which struck southern Africa, making landfall in Mozambique in 2019. Both cyclones created acute humanitarian emergencies, and close to an estimated 2.2 million people required assistance in Mozambique alone.

The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in particular was felt across all parts of Mozambique. The impact of the cyclone on local communities, including Vodacom employees, and the need for mobile connectivity to facilitate the restoration of the area, prompted Vodacom’s immediate and urgent involvement in recovery efforts. 

Restoring connectivity

Mobile communication forms the foundation of any emergency response. The restoration of mobile connectivity was not only crucial for the community of Beira, but for organisations like commercial banks and medical services. As part of the recovery process, Vodacom dispatched teams to restore fibre connections and rebuild damaged cellular towers. The Vodacom network was restored within a week of Cyclone Idai making landfall in Mozambique, which allowed humanitarian responders to coordinate their efforts more effectively. It also enabled large numbers of people affected by the cyclone to begin communicating with their loved ones to let them know they were safe.

Beyond support for crisis response, Vodacom teams provided “business as usual” services like enterprise solutions. It also operationalised and maintained satellite communication at the airport to enable communication and service delivery to the many organisations involved in recovery efforts. For example, re-establishing connectivity in Mozambique meant the World Central Kitchen could deliver tens of thousands of meals to the affected population. Doctors Without Borders was also able to set up a cholera treatment unit and be connected to all the tools and information that they needed to help stem and treat the spread of the disease. Another example of mobile innovation during times of crisis is the WhatsApp Bot created for the Mozambique government to disseminate vital information and updates to the public. Its impact has extended beyond the cyclone recovery efforts and has been vital throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the heart of any humanitarian response, a stable communications network becomes a vital means of life-saving efforts and critical decision-making. Vodacom’s response to the devastating cyclones in Mozambique highlights the important role that telcos play in responding to humanitarian disasters. In times of crisis, it becomes clearer than ever that communication is rapidly becoming a basic human need.

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