South Sudan: Strengthening relief operations through better telecommunications

Aid workers using satellite and internet services in Pibor, South Sudan. Credit: Rob Buurveld/FITTEST/2012
Vital IT and telecommunication services help aid workers respond to emergencies faster and more efficiently in remote areas.

After years of civil war, even a basic telecommunications infrastructure was non-existent in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country. Aid workers, who often rely on satellites and Internet connections to report on the humanitarian and security situation, did not have reliable access to voice-and-data communications. This hampered their efforts to respond faster and more efficiently to South Sudan’s serious humanitarian needs.  

Those needs are large and growing, as millions of South Sudanese are suffering the effects of hunger, conflict, insecurity, displacement and disease. Last December, an outbreak of communal violence in Jonglei state led to mass displacement as people fled their villages for areas that were hard to reach.   
 
Earlier this year, emergency telecommunication services were set up across four areas in South Sudan (Pibor, Bentiu, Maban and Renk) to help aid workers better coordinate emergency operations and have more access to affected communities. 
 
The project, led by the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster, provided free IT and telecommunications services to some 2,000 aid workers across South Sudan. They can now depend on reliable and secure Internet connections, mobile phone networks and IT services. Improved radio services help them to report on their whereabouts and reach out to others if their safety is threatened.      
 
“The IT services in Pibor and Renk were critical to the success of our emergency interventions,” said an official from the international NGO Medair. “Phone services in both locations were intermittent. Being able to send e-mails and locate information on the Internet has saved valuable man-hours, and it’s likely that these IT services have saved lives too.” 
 
The project is expected to expand to reach five areas in South Sudan where hundreds of humanitarian organizations work. But the services remain underfunded, with just 30 per cent of the required US$3.5 million available for projects this year. 
 
Reporting by OCHA/ South Sudan