Phone and web companies race to reconnect quake-hit Nepal - TRFN
By Joseph D'Urso
LONDON, May 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Buildings wrecked by Tuesday's earthquake in Nepal, already weakened by last month's huge quake which killed over 8,000, will take years to rebuild. But another type of infrastructure will bounce back much sooner: communication networks.
Enabling aid workers and civilians to access the internet, make a phone call or send a text is now seen as a vital part of any humanitarian response. The World Food Programme (WFP) has deployed some innovative kit to make this possible in Nepal.
The WFP, in collaboration with the Luxembourg government, the phone company Ericsson and Nethope, a grouping of NGOs, has developed mobile data antennas small enough to be taken on a commercial flight.
"They look like beach balls," said the WFP's Mariko Hall, describing them as "inflatable, light and quick to deploy". They work like a wifi network, providing an internet connection to teams in remote areas where existing signals are down.
The teams can then collect, upload and analyse data on deaths, disease and damage to buildings, with help from teams operating remotely, enabling fast response techniques unthinkable a decade ago.
Phone lines get congested when disasters strike, so response teams in Nepal have a tactic of "text not talk". Using the beach balls, they can also email, which is quicker than trying to get a call or SMS through a clogged network.
"In situations like now where you have an aftershock, you can speak to teams and they can say 'you know what, we're OK, we're fine'," said Hall, who had been in touch earlier in the day with teams in Chautara, badly hit by the latest quake.
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