TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Cutting-Edge Telecom to Help Post-Tsunami

Cutting-Edge Telecom to Help Post-Tsunami

(no name) ((no email))
14 Jan 2005 09:02:01 -0800

By EDWARD HARRIS, Associated Press Writer

BLANG BINTANG, Indonesia - Before the killer tsunami leveled his house
and swept away his daughter, Umar Bin Adam had never used a computer.

Now, squatting in a makeshift refugee camp in a schoolyard on an
Indonesian island, he taps a number into a satellite phone, mystified
but grateful for the high-tech help in his hunt for his daughter.

"For me, it's really a big help. I can communicate with my family,"
Bin Adam, 38, said after replacing the black handset connected to the
nearby dish that beams his words into space.

Thousands of foreign aid workers flooding into the Asian zones hit
hardest by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami are bringing
sophisticated phones, radios and computers — altering the
communications landscape in some of the world's poorest, most-remote

People in stricken regions say they hope the disaster-response crowd
will leave behind the gear when they go — and aid workers say at
least the mobile-phone networks they're rebuilding to help foster the
aid effort likely will remain.

Humanitarian workers point to satellite phones and remote Internet
connections as among the latest tools helping them coordinate the
world's biggest-ever aid-delivery effort.

In northern Sumatra's Aceh Province, closest to the epicenter of the
earthquake and hardest hit by the tsunami, the disaster ruined many
mobile-phone signal-repeater posts, leaving residents and aid workers
alike cursing poor coverage and dropped signals.

Many foreign aid workers leapfrog the shaky mobile system via
satellites. There are now two networks for handheld satellite phones
and laptop-sized systems with more bandwidth can be used to access the

Survivors in this region where 106,000 were killed in the disaster
aren't so lucky.

In the provincial capital Banda Aceh the tremors and waves smashed
countless Internet cafes and many survivors lost their mobile phones
in their flight to safety. Terrestrial telephone lines are down in
many places.

Sweden's Ericsson AB and other major telecommunications companies are
helping rebuild the mobile-phone network smashed by the waves in Asia,
with Ericsson donating ten radio-base stations for Banda Aceh's
network, along with hundreds of mobile phones and staff.

U.S.-based Motorola Inc. says it has donated the equivalent of
US $3 million in cash and equipment across tsunami-stricken Asia.

Dag Nielsen, head of Ericsson's disaster-response team, says Banda
Aceh's mobile network will be vastly improved, using technology called
GPRS which has greater data-transmission possibilities than the former
network. Aid workers will be the first to benefit, but in the long
term it will help the Acehnese.

Nielsen, who helped set up a network in Afghanistan's war-ruined
capital, Kabul, said that unlike earlier humanitarian missions there
are no plans to dismantle Banda Aceh's boosted mobile-phone network
when the foreigners leave.

Across the Indian Ocean, in Sri Lanka, officials maintained links
between rebel and government forces, helping prevent fighting from
breaking out in the tsunami chaos in the country where nearly 31,000

"We kept up the contacts with both the sides using mobile and
satellite phones," said Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for the
Norwegian-headed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which oversees a 2002

A France-based aid group called "Telecoms sans Frontieres" -- or
"Telecoms without Borders" -- is helping people like Bin Adam contact
loved-ones by setting up satellite phones in refugee camps.

While younger, urban Acehnese are accustomed to surfing the Internet
and chatting on mobile phones, older refugees are thrilled and
bewildered at finding their words sent through space.

The European Union-funded program is aimed at helping reconnect
shattered communities, while offering a chance for panicked survivors
to hash out their emotions.

"In this kind of disaster, there's often post-traumatic stress
disorder, so it's important to talk, to release your emotions with
your support group, which is friends and family," says John Abo, who
helps run the telephones set up under a tent in the schoolyard south
of Banda Aceh where about 1,000 survivors are sheltering.

Ragged children inspect the black, shoebox-sized telephones, which are
connected by a line to small dishes set up several yards (meters)
away, aimed at the heavens.

Bin Adam looks glum as he hangs up after his call, which yielded no
news of his daughter Juliana, whom he last saw in their home on the
morning of Dec. 26.

There's one thing all the fancy technology can't do to help Bin Adam.

The rising waters that snatched away his daughter and home also swept
away everything inside the house, including the paper on which he had
jotted all telephone numbers except the one he had memorized and
already dialed.

Associated Press writer Dilip Ganguly in Colombo, Sri Lanka,
contributed to this report.

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