As a Senior Specialist for WFP’s Fast IT and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team (FITTEST), Rob Buurveld was deployed to Benghazi for a second mission to assist the humanitarian community in establishing essential communications networks. In the time between his two missions, Rob noticed a lot of positive changes.
BENGHAZI--The United Nations is working from Benghazi to address the conflict situation in Libya. WFP is global lead of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster so FITTEST is involved to support operations with telecoms and data infrastructure. In May this year I was deployed to Benghazi for nearly two weeks to set up communications for the UN team that established presence here. I was then deployed again in July and in the time I was away, a lot has changed. The most obvious change is being able to fly to Benghazi from Cairo or Malta, quite an improvement from the two-day drive we had last time…
The UN is now more firmly established here in Benghazi - a compound that was previously used by an oil company is now used as accommodation for staff working here. Staff work from this compound and from the WFP and WHO offices in the city itself.
One of the challenges we face in Benghazi is the control on staff numbers. For security reasons, a staff ‘ceiling’ is in place which means only a restricted number of staff can be in Benghazi at any given time. This means we have only limited hands available in-country to install and support the ICT infrastructure. Fortunately, we got the chance to have two technicians in at the same time - I was in Benghazi with Michael Dirksen, also from FITTEST
, for about a week. Then we had to release the ‘slot’ and Michael left Benghazi.
We installed a repeater in the TV tower in Benghazi to increase the area for radio coverage. To provide good coverage, we needed to install the antenna as high as possible. We mounted the antenna at a height of 60 meters so we now have much better coverage and we also added a channel for use by NGOs. VHF radio remains the primary means of emergency communications and is a very high priority in every operation. Mick Eccles, a radio trainer from FITTEST
, is currently training radio operators and staff in Benghazi to make sure they are able to use the system properly.
Another important part of our work is data communications. This has evolved quite a bit too since I was here last. A VSAT has been installed in the compound to provide data and voice services and a wireless network is in place for staff working in the compound. We have significantly improved communications access for aid workers operating in this emergency.
An interesting task we had was installing communications on a boat (not a usual place for us to work!). The boat is used by UN to move emergency supplies to Misrata. A combined UN and NGO team went to Misrata for assessments and used the boat as a working base. Because of this, we installed a VHF radio and a BGAN for data communication.
The operation in Benghazi continues to evolve, but I will fly back to Dubai this week for another mission. It would be interesting to return at a later stage and see how everything has changed yet again.