Blog post

ETS connects the first humanitarian hub in Gwoza to the world

When Luis Portatadino, Emergency Telecommunications Sector (ETS) Information Technology (IT) specialist, arrives exhausted to Maiduguri one Tuesday afternoon in April and is asked about the four-day mission he just carried out in in, he is only able to say: “I think I drank 10 litres of water a day.” Gwoza town, located south of Borno’s state capital – Maiduguri, and bordering Cameroon, is known for its searing heat, and for its rocky and hilly terrain.

In the newly accessible areas in North-East Nigeria like Gwoza, former residents have begun returning home to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.  Humanitarian operations started scaling up but the lack of facilities for responders in those areas such as warehouses, office space and reliable communications services is hindering their ability to carry out their job efficiently.

To address this issue and to support humanitarian operations in those areas, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in partnership with the International Humanitarian Partnership (IHP), is leading the deployment of humanitarian hubs through IHP member – the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). In these camps, the ETS will deploy vital communications services for humanitarians.

The mission started on a Friday afternoon, when William Twyford and Dosseh Lassey, ETS telecommunications specialists, and Luis headed from Maiduguri to Gwoza, on a 12-seater UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopter. “Less than 40 minutes separate Maiduguri from Gwoza by plane, but the same level of infrastructure and services from local providers is not possible due to the ongoing conflict,” says Dosseh, “There was no Internet or mobile coverage, nothing!”

Once they arrived at the hub, rubble, a few security guards and camp contractors were the only residents. On the first day, the ETS team built the base of the satellite dish, working well past the sunset. That evening a simple meal had to be enough. Throughout the mission corned beef, cheese wedges, crackers, peanuts and tapioca but also some Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) fuelled them.

In the following days, a Very High Frequency (VHF) radio repeater and a High Frequency (HF) base radio were installed at the Communications Centre (COMCEN) deployed at the hub. To power the security telecommunications equipment, two solar panels were mounted.

On the last day of the mission, both security telecommunications and Internet connectivity services were fully operational. As the word spread, some local Non-Government Organisation (NGO) workers full of curiosity started arriving at the camp.

“Suddenly, Luis and I started to be thanked for providing stable and fast Internet access,” explains William, “They kept repeating they felt like they were part of Nigeria again”.

The camp will be completed, final clearances obtained and the opening date for humanitarians will be set. And this is how the services deployed by the ETS will play a key role in the efficient delivery of the much-need live-saving assistance in Gwoza.

By Erika Iglesias, WFP IT Emergency Preparedness and Response