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ITU Responds to Appeal for Telecommunications Assistance from Tsunami Affected Countries

Destruction of a building in Tsunami-Hit areas in Bande Ache, Thailand. Source: ITU/Cosmas Zavazava.Following the South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami of Sunday 26 December 2004, ITU sent 14 satellite terminals (GANS) to Sri Lanka under the ITU-Inmarsat Partnership. ITU has also sent an expert to Thailand to train government designated technicians in the use of these terminals.

Over and above the deployment of satellite terminals, ITU has already allocated 250 000 (USD) seed money to assess the damage to the telecommunication infrastructure in Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka, prepare a telecommunication infrastructure rehabilitation plan, and help develop a national plan for emergency communications as part of the Tsunami Early Warning System for the Indian Ocean. As well, in the event of other natural disasters or major telecommunication network failures, ITU will assist governments in preparing technical specifications and investment projects needed for infrastructure procurement while helping to prepare the documentation required to source funding for the investment projects.

ITU is also actively participating in ongoing meetings aimed at establishing a Tsunami Early Warning System. The aim is to provide its expertise on how to effectively disseminate information on impending disasters.

ITU helps set up a National Emergency Telecommunication Plan for tsunami-hit countries Destruction of a building in Tsunami-Hit areas in Bande Ache, Thailand. Source: ITU/Cosmas Zavazava.

Within this framework, two workshops were held on emergency telecommunications, one held in Sri Lanka on 23 March 2006 and the other in Bangladesh on 29 March. These workshops are part of ITU's support in the elaboration and reconstruction of telecommunication infrastructure in areas affected by the great tsunami of 2005, following up ITU's recommendation to set up a national emergency telecommunication plan to help vulnerable countries cope with these disasters.

Participants from government agencies, commercial operators, international agencies and local NGOs identified issues and concerns regarding disaster management, telecommunications in emergency situations, and action plans to improve the countries' disaster response capabilities. Some of the issues identified include: clearly defined emergency coordination roles for agencies possessing telecommunications facilities; formulation of an emergency telecommunication plan; update of obsolete network infrastructure; the need for emergency control facilities to allow private operators to disseminate disaster information; a common alert protocol in local languages, to disseminate standard warning messages; the need to lift restrictions on the use of communication equipment during emergency situations; frequencies bands reserved for disaster situations.

The participants agreed to assemble an ad hoc team from the concerned government agencies, to deal with all aspects of telecommunications in emergency situations. The first meeting of this team will be announced shortly.

Map of the South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami
(Click on the map to see a bigger version)

About the disaster

In the early hours of the morning of Sunday 26 December 2004 a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The epicentre was some 30 kilometres under the seabed and 250 kilometres south-southwest of Banda Aceh. The first quake was followed by aftershocks ranging from 6 to 7.3. The quake triggered powerful tsunamis reaching ten metres in height, and these moved through neighbouring parts of the Indian Ocean at over 500 kilometres an hour wrecking coastal areas in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Maldives, as well as in Myanmar, Seychelles, and Somalia.

To date, an estimated 139,000 people lost their lives and some 37,000 still are missing. In the affected areas businesses have collapsed. Millions of people have seen their families and communities torn apart. The tsunamis flooded coastal areas and wiped away homes and buildings, roads and bridges, water and electricity supplies, crops, irrigation and fishery infrastructure, food and fuel networks. To see photos of the aftermath, click here.

Recent response efforts by ITU:

 

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Updated : 2007-09-21