Nature proves time and time again to be the most powerful force on our planet. Hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, mudslides and other natural disasters bring a lasting impact on the regions they hit. Unfortunately, when a disaster does strike, the logistics of coordinating on-site aid is a difficult task. Communications are often impaired by a lack of mobile phone service and internet, making coordination of relief efforts near-impossible.
The issue was first brought to Skype’s attention back in 2008 by UNHCRTheir dedicated members were working tirelessly in treacherous locations to support disaster and humanitarian aid efforts. Many of the aid workers wanted to use Skype to try to coordinate relief work and keep in touch with their families, but with limited internet connectivity in these areas, it made communication difficult. These conditions needed to change and UNHCR asked Skype if it would be possible to deliver a solution that would improve staff welfare. A team was put together to find a solution, the end result was a version of the Skype client optimized for low-bandwidth environments.
Use of this solution by the UNHCR has continued to grow – first from a pilot of 10, then to 100 and now to over 250 remote, hardship locations covering more than 5,000 members. UNHCR staff in Darfur, Pakistan, Iran, Mali, Ethiopia and beyond are now able to let their families know they are safe – and even if for just a moment – feel at home.
Juliette Murekeyisoni, a UNHCR Field Officer at one of Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia, uses the Skype solution every single day to keep in touch with her husband and 5 year old son. “When I first came to Dollo, the network was always busy or very bad, the first two months were very difficult – then Skype changed everything,” explained Murekeyisoni. “There are about 188,735 refugees from Somalia in Dollo Ado Camps. Through our work, we hope they can one day all be able to return back to their own country (Somalia)” says Murekeyisoni.
In January, 2010, when Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake, a response team was sent by the Luxembourg government, ready to help in any way possible. But they were kept at the airport, loosing precious time due to lack of aid coordination and communication. After this unfortunate situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg met and concluded that in order to avoid a similar future scenario they needed to create an emergency response platform.
After working with organizations based in Luxembourg, including Skype, the public / private partnership emergency.lu, a global public good project, was launched in late 2012 to achieve this. Now, within 20 hours of a natural disaster, a team can be deployed from Luxembourg to set up a successful internet connection with an inflatable satellite antenna. Paired with Skype, this setup can provide Wi-Fi, instant messaging, voice and video chat to aid workers on location during the most desperate of times in both natural disaster and human-caused conflict areas. “The solution is designed to be deployed when there’s a catastrophe, but it’s also already been deployed in different regions in support of various UN agencies and international NGO’s,” said Antoine Bertout, Skype Partner Relations Manager.
Emergency.lu and Skype recently celebrated one year of this successful partnership. “We gave a presentation at the UN headquarters about how well received the emergency.lu platform has been by the humanitarian support community. This is another great example of how Skype can be used to remove barriers to communication and make life better, even in some of the most remote locations on Earth,” explains Bertout.