Catalyzing support for communications recovery in Vanuatu

Catalyzing support for communications recovery in Vanuatu

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Michael Corley

Vanuatu. Three weeks ago, most of us had never heard of this island nation in the South Pacific Ocean and most of us couldn’t pronounce it (vah-noo-ah-too) correctly. However, this was not important to The Patterson Foundation (TPF) when we received an email from our international partner, NetHope, which was quickly mobilizing in response to its NGO partners’ requests to restore information and communication technology (“ICT”) on the islands after they were devastated by Cyclone Pam.

TPF understands that organizations that want to work with each other to respond to disasters can't do so without the ability to communicate (phone, text, fax, internet, etc.). Without critical communications, those needing help won't be able to get it. Without the ability to communicate, assets aren’t leveraged. Without the ability to communicate, coordination of resources doesn’t occur.

Our experiences have taught us that effective communication is the “grease” that removes the friction inherent in collaborative work and allows organizations to leverage assets. Because of his experience and access to his network of experts, Gisli Olafsson, the Global Emergency Response Director for NetHope, was able to draft an initial response plan with funding needs.

As we read this document and learned more about Vanuatu, we began to appreciate the breadth and depth of the need. While there were international aid organizations preparing to deploy, their ability to help the residents and each other would be severely limited without the ability to communicate. Most, if not all, communications infrastructure on the islands was damaged.

NetHope’s immediate needs included sending personnel to coordinate its work on the islands (this would be a minimum of two months), sending an ICT response team (five people for three weeks), shipping costs for equipment, purchasing satellite phone airtime, and building a management/administrative structure to support itself and the work of its seven NGO partners. These were the financial needs.

The in-kind needs included various types of equipment, including satellite internet terminals, satellite phones, charging stations, etc. (The initial request summed to $154k, but within a week moved to $500k as the extent of damage was uncovered.)

In responding to a disaster, time is critical and focus is necessary. TPF understands that every day NetHope is waiting to deploy a resource because it needs to raise money, or each meeting NetHope discusses fundraising when it could be discussing ICT infrastructure needs with one of its “in country” partners, is a distraction from “doing the work” to help those in need. We worked to minimize the initial challenges of funding so NetHope could begin its immediate work to support its partners.

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