ITU and Thuraya forge partnership for portable satellite terminals

Geneva 10 July 2006The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company have concluded an agreement to provide portable satellite terminals to assist countries in disaster mitigation and relief. Thuraya, the United Arab Emirates satellite-based company, is contributing handheld satellite terminals along with solar chargers; ITU will pay for airtime at discounted rates offered by Thuraya and cover the transportation costs of telecommunications equipment to and from disaster-hit areas. ITU will also provide its expertise in technical and operational training for government officials involved in rescue missions.

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In the light of a spate of natural disasters and calamities in recent times, the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-06) meeting in Doha in March 2006 called upon ITU to develop ICT-based solutions in emergency telecommunications directed at improving early-warning communication, disaster preparedness and mitigation. This is a critical area of concern especially for countries with fragile economies and special needs, such as least developed countries and small island developing states.

"The tsunami that wreaked havoc in south East Asia, the Kashmir earthquake, the Suriname floods, and the Indonesia earthquake have demonstrated the power of emergency telecommunications in saving lives and co-ordinating efforts during rescue operations such as the setting up of telemedicine links", stated ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi.

Access to information is of paramount importance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster for relief agencies to co-ordinate search-and-rescue, medical intervention and rehabilitation efforts. There is an urgent need to establish effective and comprehensive communication links between the affected area, national disaster response facilities, and with the larger international community. Ironically, terrestrial communication links are almost always disabled and disrupted during the first hours of a major disaster. The Thuraya terminals, which support voice and data applications and remote location determination services via GPS, will help provide that vital link via satellite. When regular cellular networks are available, the GSM-enabled Thuraya handsets can automatically switch to the terrestrial network for greater affordability.

"One of the pillars leading to the success of our work in this area rests on multi-stakeholder partnerships", stated Cosmas Zavazava, ITU Focal Point for Emergency Telecommunications. "It is in this respect that we welcome the contribution by Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, a Member of ITU's Development Sector."

Thuraya CEO Yousuf Al Sayed agreed that the responsiveness of relief efforts can be made more effective through such partnerships. "As a leading multi-regional mobile satellite operator, Thuraya is committed to contributing towards world needs during rescue and emergency operations, and we are pleased to partner and work closely with ITU and concerned UN agencies to provide urgent communications support in disaster-hit areas", Mr. Al Sayed stated. "The responsiveness of relief efforts can be made much more efficient through such partnerships."

ITU will provide the Thuraya satellite handheld terminals to rescue teams, government authorities and humanitarian agencies to establish vital communication links for relief and rehabilitation efforts. The communication link will also help victims locate their families and seek personal assistance.


Leslie Versweyveld

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