August 09, 2006

A NEW FACE FOR HUMANITARIAN AID


Caption: Why the long face? A new kind of aid is on the way.

While catching up on a neglected pile of magazines, El Cabrero stumbled on a new and very sensible kind of humanitarian aid in the July 17 issue of Business Week:

ASKED TO NAME a team of specialists known for swooping into disaster zones to deliver relief, many of us could come up with Doctors Without Borders? But Telecoms Without Borders?


The French name (pardon the absence of accent marks) is Telecoms Sans Frontieres, and according to Business Week,

this little-known communications SWAT team is often among the first to arrive after a catastrophe--with laptops, routers, and satellite gear. TSF's 50 workers (15 salaried, 35 volunteer) have become a dependable geek squad for the international disaster-relief community. "Uninterrupted Internet communications are a lifeline for us," says Rajan Gengaje, a U.N. adviser who worked with TSF in the wake of the May 27 earthquake on the Indonesian island of Java.



The group was founded in 1998 but grew out of an older volunteer organization, Solidarite Pyrenee (again, sorry about the accent marks). The idea for this kind of an aid group grew out of the first Gulf War. According to co-founder Jean-Francois Casenave, many refugees at the time "gave us a piece of paper from inside their shoes with a phone number and asked us to call their families."

At the time of the article, the group had completed 60 missions, including the 2003 earthquake in Iran, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2005 famine in Africa. "After the recent Indonesian quake, a TSF team, headed by Oisin Walton, 26, set up a comprehensive Internet, fax, and phone center for 110 rescue workers in the city of Yogyakarta."

Make that 60+. On August 7, a TSF team departed for Lebanon.

Makes sense to me. Even during the minor floods and accidents El Cabrero experienced as a volunteer firefighter, sometimes the most urgent need of survivors was to get word to families and friends.

In this cold and increasingly postmodern world, information and communication are matters of life and death.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

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