Six weeks after arriving in flood-stricken Pakistan, the head of WFP’s emergency IT unit, Dane Novarlic, says telecoms are up and running smoothly. But damaged roads, security concerns and constantly changing conditions are keeping his team on their toes as the operation continues.
What is the situation like now compared to when you arrived last month?
When I first arrived at the beginning of August, the damage was concentrated mainly in the north of the country. Since then, the flooding has gushed southwards destroying everything in its path. When I got here, there were three million people in need of help—now there are nine million.
What does that mean from an IT perspective?
WFP leads the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) in Pakistan so it’s up to us to ensure that everything runs smoothly. That’s an enormous task, both because of the enormity of the emergency and the number of humanitarian players on the ground.
What is the priority at the moment?
At the moment, we’re busy setting up two new offices at Multan in Punjab and Sukkur in Sindh, to coordinate telecoms in the east and south of the country. Centres like these serve as telephone and radio hubs that help us monitor the security and safety of teams and assist them in carrying out their operations. In unstable areas like Multan and Sukkur, these offices are staffed 24 hours a day.
What have you been able to achieve since coming to Pakistan last month?
Our operation is in full swing now with IT officers here from all over the world. After carrying out a battery of assessments, telecommunications are online and running smoothly for WFP and the humanitarian community large. Most recently, last week we had a major training session in Islamabad, which taught IT officers how to operate in an emergency as big as this one.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
The most daunting challenge right now is security. The extent of the flooding in Pakistan is such that we’re having to work in dangerous territory where security precautions are a constant necessity. Luckily, we haven’t had any problems yet. Transport is also a challenge, as many of the roads and bridges have been washed away meaning that we often have to travel by helicopter.
How do you see the operation unfolding over the coming months?
The food relief operation in September is scaling up to feed over six million people, twice as many as in August. As the operation expands, telecoms support will have to expand with it.
Interview by Mariko Hall