The WFP-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster has set up satellite communications services for the humanitarian community assisting tens of thousands of refugees in Yida, South Sudan. It's one of the most challenging places in the world for aid workers to live and work.
YIDA, South Sudan - “Let it rain over me,” said Haidar Baqir, WFP's emergency telecoms coordinator, citing a song of the same name by his favourite US rap artist, Pitbull.
It was the middle of the rainy season and Haidar was preparing to install an emergency.lu VSAT terminal along with two colleagues, Chris Alagna (RedR Australia) and Magnus Gunnarsson (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency [MSB]). “The forecast says it's going to rain. But who cares? As Pitbull says: ‘Let it rain over me!’”
As WFP's Deputy Head of ICT in South Sudan and Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) coordinator, Haidar was in charge of establishing data connectivity in the northern town of Yida, where many thousands of refugees are now living. Doing so required perseverance amid challenging conditions.
Several weeks later, with the rainy season pretty much over, the ETC team still requires determination in orer to provide internet connectivity and voice communications services to the humanitarian community on the ground.
It’s a tough operation. The settlement at Yida is home to around 65,000 refugees who have fled fighting in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, and who now face malnutrition, disease and sanitation problems. The ETC enables agencies like WFP, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), among others, to coordinate locally and internationally and provide lifesaving services to the refugees.
Yida is a sprawling settlement (it even has a little market set up by its inhabitants) but living conditions for the aid workers (and the 19 Mongolian UN peacekeepers) are fairly cramped. Resources are also limited. There are no buildings in the compound, so shelter, either in the form of tents or tukuls (traditional seating areas), is made with tarpaulin and fences are crafted from dead grass. It is perhaps one of the only places in the world where you can simply build your own office.