the French NGO Télécoms sans frontières connects disaster regions

In Marrakech, September 10, 2023.

They are neither firefighters nor rescuers. They have no dogs or research equipment. However, they are just as important during such natural disasters. On the evening of Saturday September 9, barely forty-eight hours after the earthquake which struck Morocco, killing more than 2,900 people, a team of four volunteers from the French NGO Télécoms sans frontières (TSF) arrived in the kingdom. Cherifian. In their suitcases, satellite communications tools, the only ones capable of establishing connections in disaster areas, often cut off from the world due to the damage caused by the earthquake to telecoms networks.

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The TSF team moved to the crisis unit located in Talat N’Yaacoub, in the province of Al Haouz, the epicenter of the earthquake. And it was able to begin deploying its equipment on Wednesday, September 13, after several days of discussions with the authorities, thanks to the support of local organizations. Morocco has not officially requested French aid, which has sparked the start of controversy. “It is obviously up to His Majesty the King and the government of Morocco, in a fully sovereign manner, to organize international aid, and therefore we are at the disposal of their sovereign choice”declared Emmanuel Macron, Tuesday, September 12, in a video addressed to the Moroccan people posted on the X network (formerly Twitter), to try to calm the debate.

“A few years ago, telecoms were not considered a humanitarian emergency. They are today », explains Monique Lanne-Petit, co-founder of TSF with Jean-François Cazenave, who remained in France, at the NGO’s headquarters in Pau, to remotely direct the Moroccan mission. Since its creation in 1998, TSF has responded to more than 140 crises in more than 70 countries, and not just following natural disasters. It also intervenes during armed conflicts, such as in Syria or Libya, or in areas of high migration, particularly in South America, each time to provide means of communication to rescuers and populations.

“We are not a competitor”

It was on the ground that the idea of ​​creating TSF was born, in the mid-1990s, when mobile phones were still reserved for an elite. Involved in two ociations which no longer exist today, Solidarité Pyrénées and SOS Humanitarian Action, Mme Lanne-Petit and Mr. Cazenave were regularly asked by affected people to call their loved ones, once they returned to France, in order to reure them about their health. Bringing a satellite line, sometimes in the middle of the rubble, thus became a humanitarian obviousness. TSF operates with a budget of 2 million to 3 million euros per year, with the support of satellite operators Eutelsat and Inmarsat or the endowment fund Thales Solidarity.

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Telecoms manufacturers, such as the British operator Vodafone or the Swedish equipment manufacturer Ericsson, offer aid services to affected populations. But TSF is the only international NGO to act in this area. “We are buffering while the operators restore the network. We are not a competitor”specifies Mme Lanne-Petit.

In certain areas, the mission does not stop after the telephone lines are re-established. With the development of the Internet and social networks, TSF has expanded its area of ​​action. By relying on local ociations or organizations, it provides digital education courses for children, creates community telecom centers to provide Internet access to populations or trains NGOs to adapt their communication tools.

Olivier Pinaud

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