Post-hurricane Dominica (Part 4): Here is why we care about communications, as well as food
Restoring connectivity helps people make informed decisions
An outlandish big white ball stands out among the school, a church with a twisted cross and a dozen fishing boats in the community of Saint Sauveur. It is the most visible sign of a quick-deploy satellite installed by the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) — led globally by the World Food Programme (WFP) — and Ericsson Response engineers, to help communities reconnect with the outside world after Hurricane Maria.
“After Hurricane Maria, we are basically relying on remittances. So, if there is no internet or any kind of communications, how could we even think of staying and rebuilding our homes? Having the internet back helps us to take a breath and think about what comes next”.
Local teacher Abrahim “Abe” Fontaine always wanted to be a journalist. It does not surprise me at all because in a few minutes he has managed to turn the story of his small fishing village into a cover one.
Abe can “smell” what makes the difference now in Saint Sauveur and Good Hope, and he can recount it in the way reporters do.
Stay or leave, and why communications matter in emergencies
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed everything that people had in the small towns of Dominica. As locals say, the eight-hour curse brought winds that sounded like a bird in a cage, but the worst came at dawn. The sun highlighted the rubble, and all that was visible was trash and shadows.
Everything was gone — including communications.
“Obviously, the first things that many people did were cry, look out for families and friends, and move elsewhere. But it was impossible to make decisions at that time, because we were in a zone of silence, totally isolated,” says Abe as we walk around the town.
“Of course, all of that changed when you guys arrived…”
Humanitarian hotspots against silence
A few hours after the hurricane made landfall on Dominica, engineers from the WFP and Ericsson Response were trying to ensure that affected people on the island were reachable and could receive humanitarian assistance by accessing updated information and being able to contact their relatives abroad.
That is why the “big white balls” and the WiFi hotspots have been installed in remote communities like Saint Sauveur and Good Hope, involving both the government and the communities in the process. The locals are watching and protecting the equipment, as well as taking care of the people working with it.
When Abe Fontaine says “you guys”, he doesn’t make clear distinctions between logos and t-shirts. He is acknowledging Debora, Mine and Amir: the young staff from both WFP and Ericsson Response that have lived here for weeks, far from their homes, challenging the deafening silence to put all Dominicans on the map for aid and recovery.
“Now we can concentrate on rebuilding our lives here. All the country is facing the same thing, and there is no better place to start again than here, where we belong,” Abe says.
With the internet back, Abe can read, comment and share this story with other people in his community. And yes, it sounds really good.
Disaster-affected people are the first responders in emergencies. Restoring communications helps communities, the government and humanitarian organizations on the ground to be coordinated, and supports families in making informed decisions. In post hurricane Dominica, communications help people get back on their feet again — just as well as food.
These efforts have been supported by the Government of Luxembourg, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO), Seal Air, Nielsen, The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Cisco Fundation, the Government of Canada, the Department for International Development (DFID), Facebook, Google, and the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)