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Telecoms Unit Brings The Niger Relief Effort Online

An effective emergency telecoms system is ensuring the humanitarian community in Niger is able to deliver relief and support to people affected by last year's drought. The system, set up by WFP’s emergency IT unit, FITTEST, was built around three radio channels that enable staff to remain in contact wherever they are.

DIFFA—A hard drought last year in the poverty-stricken nation of Niger sparked a major humanitarian relief operation to feed over 5 million people in urgent need of food assistance

An operation of that scale requires lots of communications, but telecoms infrastructure in Niger—like radio towers and repeaters—are next to non-existent. As lead agency of the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, it was up to WFP to put the necessary equipment in place so that aid workers around the country could talk to each other.

A community asset

That task fell to WFP’s IT unit, the FITTEST team, who started the job by installing repeaters at strategic locations in Tahoua and Diffa—two of the regions hardest hit by the drought. Repeaters are devices used to retransmit radio signals at a higher power so people farther away can receive them.

“With these installations, the humanitarian community can make contact and be contacted for better coordination of operations as well as for their own security,” said FITTEST team member Vitaliy Salkov. “There are now two radio channels for UN agencies and a third channel dedicated to NGOs,” says Salkov.

The Diffa installation was carried out in partnership with Croix-Rouge Fran├žaise (French Red Cross). Prior to this installation, Niger was completely without interagency facilities

New recruits

While the drought in Niger has since ended and conditions for the people affected have started to improve, the food relief operation is far from over. An October nutrition survey found that the acute malnutrition rate in the country was over 15.5 per cent—lower that its peak of 16.7 per cent in June, but still above the emergency threshold of 12 per cent.

FITTEST’s newest member, Sylvain Tiako, has been deployed to Niger’s capital, Niamey, to train newly recruited radio operators about UN radio protocol.

Tiako is aware that the living and working conditions in Niger, one of the poorest countries in West Africa, will be challenging.

“It will be tough, like everything in life,” he said. “But you just have to adapt and concentrate. When you decide to work in the humanitarian community, you don’t ask yourself, is there water, power or a clean bed for me to sleep in. There are millions of people who need our help so you just have to go in and get the job done.”