Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 17:54 UK

Burma's emergency telecoms delay

People ride a bike past an uprooted tree on May 8, 2008 in downtown Yangon, Burma
Infrastructure in many areas has been destroyed

Foreign aid workers dedicated to delivering emergency telecoms in disaster areas have been prevented from going into cyclone-hit Burma.

Like many charity groups, the Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) organisation has so far been denied entry visas by the military-run government.

A TSF team has been waiting in Bangkok, Thailand, with its equipment all week.

"We're stuck for the moment; so much time has been wasted," TSF spokesman Oisin Walton told BBC News.

If visas are eventually granted, the team will go in to set up phone and other network links.

These will be used by many aid groups to co-ordinate the huge relief effort that is needed.

TSF KITLIST
TSF phone (TSF)
BGan satellite link (data and voice: 496kbps). Primary connection
Gan M4 satellite link (data and voice: 64kbps). Used as backup
Large VSAT satellite dish for long term deployments
At least two satellite phones including a mobile device
Mobile phones and local sim cards if GSM infrastructure intact
Routers and access points for communication centre
Wireless relays to extend coverage
PCs, printer and scanner
GPS
Power packs including car batteries and solar panels
Locals will also be offered "welfare calls", to make contact with friends and family who will have been worried about their safety.

The UN fears more than 1.5 million people have been affected by Cyclone Nargis which struck on Saturday.

Tens of thousands have made homeless; communications are down and roads have been washed away.

TSF initially scrambled a team of five and 80kg of equipment in Bangkok on Saturday, at the request of the UN.

The telecoms group then waited with other relief workers for approval from the Burmese government to enter the country.

"We are on a list with the UN for visas and we're not getting any reply," said Mr Walton.

"There is a lot of frustration among aid workers. We want to help the people of Burma but the authorities aren't letting us do our job."

The charity has a well practised drill once it gets into a disaster zone.

It has pre-prepared kits that allow teams to set up communications centres which contain all the telecoms and IT equipment found in a normal office - including printers, scanners, laptops and phones - housed in a tent or temporary shelter.

Connections are made via satellite links.

TSF has a commitment to the UN to deploy within 48 hours but is generally in the field within just 24 hours.

Diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade the military rulers to let aid teams into the affected areas.

On Thursday, the UN's humanitarian chief, John Holmes, told reporters that Burma's response to the disaster was "nothing like as much as is needed".




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