Humanitarian Communications in the Central African Republic

Internet and phone services to enhance aid operations after months of unrest

"The security situation across the country is volatile," says Komi Amedjonekou, ICT Officer for the World Food Programme (WFP) in the Central African Republic (CAR). "It has improved in some locations, but serious security incidents and looting are still reported regularly."

The instability in CAR since the rebel Séléka movement overthrew the government in March has caused huge humanitarian problems: there are around 206,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and 55,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. Food insecurity is widespread, access to water and sanitation is limited and there is a high risk of diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera.

Poor communications makes the humanitarian response even more challenging. "Communications infrastructure in CAR is very weak," says Komi. "You can't rely on the local ISP (internet service provider) as coverage is very patchy. NGOs are writing to us asking when we can provide connectivity."

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is currently preparing for deployment to seven locations across the country. It is planned that phase one will be a rapid rollout in Bambari, Kaga-Bandoro and Zemio, while phase two will focus on N'Délé, Bouar, Bossangoa, and Paoua.

Both phases will include provision of security telecommunications through COMCENs (Communications Centres) and data connectivity. Staff have already been assigned, equipment identified and an implementation plan developed.

Currently, humanitarian organizations have to visit the offices of WFP or the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to use the internet. But the ETC will provide access for the entire humanitarian community. "As local ETC lead, WFP will enhance the telecommunication capacity of humanitarian organizations operating in the country," says Komi. "When we deploy the COMCENs, our humanitarian partners will have full internet and phone access making operations much easier."