UN World Food Programme

South Sudan: World's Newest Country Deploys World's Newest Solution For Emergency Comms

Haidar Baqir, WFP Deputy Head of IT in South Sudan, testing the inflatable emergency.lu satellite terminal in Juba (Copyright: WFP/ Arthur Sawmadal).

As the world’s youngest country, IT and telecommunications infrastructure in South Sudan are still underdeveloped, posing enormous challenges for humanitarian workers. A new partnership between WFP and the Government of Luxembourg is changing, thanks to the new  ‘emergency.lu’ platform which has just been deployed in South Sudan.

JUBA - Humanitarian emergencies are becoming increasingly complex; with each disaster there are more people who need urgent assistance, spread over a larger physical area, in a more insecure operating environment. In these desperate situations effective communications to efficiently manage the operation are paramount. In many of the areas in which WFP works, however – such as South Sudan - there is no food or shelter, let alone internet connectivity.

“There is currently no fixed telephone or internet infrastructure in rural South Sudan,” says Arthur Sawmadal, WFP Head of IT in South Sudan. “We rely on the mobile network but the coverage is limited to the capital cities and some locations in the field. Satellite services by commercial providers have overstretched capacity so what connectivity we do have is not only expensive, but unreliable.”

As global lead of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), WFP is collaborating with the Directorate for Development Cooperation of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and telecommunications company Ericsson, to develop a cutting-edge solution to assist the entire humanitarian community operating in disaster situations. 

‘emergency.lu’ is a comprehensive solution to address the challenge of rapid response capacity by filling the communications gap that often occurs at the onset of large-scale disasters, especially in remote locations. The solution consists of satellite infrastructure and capacity; communication and coordination services; satellite ground terminals for long-term and rapid deployment; and transportation of equipment to the disaster area. The solution is based on a public-private partnership between the Luxembourg Government and Luxembourg-based companies SES TechCom, HITEC and Luxembourg Air Ambulance. It is a global public good funded by the Luxembourg Government for the benefit of the humanitarian community as a whole.

The maiden deployment of emergency.lu was in Bentiu, Unity State near the border between South Sudan and Republic of the Sudan. Since independence, the population in Bentiu has swelled from 7,000 to nearly 90,000 as a result of returnees and refugees fleeing conflict. Humanitarian organizations have promptly expanded operations to cope with escalating requirements. With this new solution, aid workers in the area now have reliable internet connectivity to coordinate their essential operations. 

Deployed in combination with emergency.lu is the WIDER (Wireless Local Area Network in Disaster Emergency Response) tool provided by Ericsson. WIDER is a central globalised management solution that allows network owners to monitor use and access to internet services, providing humanitarian users in emergencies with more cost effective, reliable and secure connectivity.

Technicians from WFP, Government of Luxembourg and Ericsson Response travelled to Bentiu to install and configure the equipment which included an inflatable satellite terminal. Additional emergency.lu terminals will also be deployed in Maban and Renk.

This first deployment was a rewarding experience, and a proof-of-concept for our multi-stakeholder approach. And the teamwork between WFP, Ericsson Response and the volunteers from the Luxembourg Civil Protection was excellent!” said Marianne Donven, Directorate for Development Cooperation of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Without connectivity, you can’t efficiently coordinate your operations,” said Arthur. “And in emergencies, where time is extremely valuable, this is a huge disadvantage. You may have to drive hours to send just one email. Installing this system in places like Maban, where there is nothing, is like a savior.