Sign up today to join our online community, receive email alerts, and make a difference!
Cancel

WFP In North Africa: Building The Communications Links

WFP's rapid response ICT teams are playing a critical role in ensuring that telecommunications are up and running to respond to the North Africa crisis. For IT assistant Hossam Metwally, the long days have paid off: he is seeing first-hand the importance of building the communications framework needed to deliver food aid.

SALLOUM, Egypt -- Hossam Metwally leaves for work these days at 7 am, driving 220 kilometers across the mountainous, rugged terrain of northwestern Egypt. He returns "home" --to a temporary apartment in the Mediterranean seaport of Marsa Matrouh -- 12 hours later.

His workplace, at least for the coming weeks: Egypt's desert Salloum border with Libya, where WFP is feeding thousands of people and which serves as a launching pad of sorts for our food distribution efforts in eastern Libya.

The 26-year-old IT assistant is part of a small but vital emergency ICT team that is building the very skeleton of WFP's three-month humanitarian operation in North Africa -- ensuring crucial Internet, mobile phones, satellite equipment and other telecommunications basics are on hand and operational.

"We started with the basics -- a wave of communication, the Internet, and a backup, the satellite equipment," says Metwally, a native Egyptian who joined WFP two years ago. "All that was prepared before coming here as part of an emergency response kit."

Communications tools

The overall goal: to have the communications tools necessary to realize WFP's $39.2 million emergency operation in North Africa that aims to provide food to more than one million hungry people in conflict-torn Libya and to those crossing into neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

"We're working from scratch," Metwally says. "Everything needs to be implemented, tested."

WFP's ICT staff are veterans when it comes to emergency response. In the world's neediest areas, communications are often essential to saving lives. Only when communications are in place can WFP's aid workers effectively manage the movement, delivery and monitoring of critical food assistance -- and also ensure their own safety.

Metwally sees first-hand the importance of his work. Several thousand people who fled the violence in Libya are now camped out along the two-kilometer-wide border area at Salloum. Most are from sub-Saharan Africa. If he has a spare minute, Metwally helps WFP distribute hot meals to them.

"I feel like I'm not only doing my job -- ensuring that communication technology is working correctly -- but I'm doing something to help people get the food assistance they need," Metwally says."It really feels fabulous."