Goats. Cows. Kids. Guys in sleeveless shirts with guns. I stood there waiting for a UNHAS flight in the town of Man and it seemed like every human man, and his dog, was on the runway. For some reason the fence around the runway was removed when the conflict started and now there was no control. Because of the recent fighting, it can be difficult to travel across the country. The trip to Man from the capital Abidjan, for example, has 37 checkpoints.
I was waiting with a lady from UNHAS and some guy (he looked like he’d just walked out of the bushes) came up to us and demanded to see the plane’s papers. He seemed happy enough with what we showed him and walked away.
I was on mission in Cote d’Ivoire installing inter-agency radio rooms for the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) in Man and extend the coverage area for VHF radio communications.
The TV tower which we installed the repeater on in Man was an hour’s drive away on a mountain 1,200 metres above sea level. The tower is controlled by the military and they give special approval for additional installations by UN agencies. It has stable power and a spare generator behind it with an automatic changeover switch which was good. In Man there are lots of hills which mean that the position of the repeater is even more important. The tower itself is 70m high and with this installation, we will be able to provide the whole town with VHF radio coverage. The office that handles radio frequencies was raided in the conflict so they are not issuing new ones at the moment. UNHCR is donating a frequency to the Emergency Telecoms Cluster in the meantime.
We accomplished a lot during our mission. We also did an electrical assessment of the WFP office and set-up a BGAN satellite and radio communications there. We also did grounding for a VSAT satellite and a generator.
We spoke with some NGOs and gave them advice about what sort of equipment they needed. We told them about the new radio rooms we were installing and how the ETC provides 24/7 radio rooms for all UN agencies and NGOs operating in the area. We visited OCHA, UNICEF and UNHCR to agree on the ETC project.
I didn’t get sick on this mission which was good. When you go to the places we go, it’s not uncommon to get a bit sick. I’ve had malaria three times and dengue as well. When you go on these types of missions, it’s important that you can trust the people that you are deployed with. If you get sick, you know you can rely on this guy to help you get through.
Also doing the work that we do, like climbing up 70-metre towers, you need to be able to trust the guy who’s assisting you on the ground. Because of this, the people that you work with have to be more than just colleagues, but your mates too.