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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February 2005, 16:49 GMT
Telecoms help for tsunami victims
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

With communications badly affected in many areas struck by the recent Tsunami, one charity has been on the ground trying to help people regain contact with friends and family.

Tsunami victims use a satellite phone
Tsunami victims have suffered from being cut off from family members
When disaster strikes, a reliable satellite phone and internet communication is one of the things that victims and those helping them badly need.

And this has been made possible, thanks to the work of a charity called Télécoms sans Frontières (TSF).

With its headquarters tucked away in the provincial town of Pau, south-western France, it is slightly out of the way - but this is not something that bothers the organisation.

Jean-Francois Cazenave, TSF's president, says the idea for the charity stemmed from his personal experience.

"Previously I was a general aid worker and each time I entered a country, for example Bosnia, people would thrust a little piece of paper into my hand with a telephone number on it.

"And they'd say to us: 'call this number when you get back home and tell them that we are here and alive. Uncle has been killed, but we're all right'."

High-tech

To do its work, Télécoms sans Frontières benefits from the recent explosion in satellite communications.

It uses portable antennae to link phones and internet terminals into regional and global broadband networks.

Tsunami victims use a satellite phone
Many Sri Lankans are too poor to pay for communication themselves
TSF takes some hi-tech kit into the field.

A standard satellite phone works anywhere in the world, as does TSF's internet terminal.

One of their routers supplies ten computers with broadband internet.

At the moment it is limited to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

All of it fits into carry-on luggage, and TSF's record between first notification of a disaster and getting on a plane is three hours.

'Middle ages'

When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, it steam-rolled almost everything in its path.

It tore up railways, downed power and communication lines.

Those who survived it were thrown back to the middle ages.

While in Indonesia, TSF was providing communications for aid agencies. In Sri Lanka it set up operations at food queues.

Many rang up family members working overseas in Europe and the Middle East.

Oisin Walton, Communications Director of TSF, says: "The money coming from these members working abroad is the first income of Sri Lanka.

"It is essential to be able to connect these family members together.

"Sri Lankans are actually too poor to be able to pay for communication, so a five minute call to a relative can actually make a difference."

Télécoms sans Frontières plans to stay in the region for the foreseeable future, giving those worst hit by the tsunami a chance of a precious call for help.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.



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