Ensuring Connectivity in Emergency Situations – Zain’s Commitment to the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter

In recognition of the role that the mobile industry plays in humanitarian crises, in March 2015 the GSMA launched the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter. The Charter is formed by a set of principles which focus on enhancing coordination, scaling and standardising responses and on strengthening partnerships. The ultimate aim of the Charter is to strengthen access to communication and information to reduce loss of life and positively contribute to humanitarian assistance.

We are pleased to welcome Zainas one of the latest signatories of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter. We heard from Zain on why they have joined the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter

Given our unique operating context in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and our commitment to ensuring that business continuity is maintained during situations of crisis, we at Zain believe that we can extract meaningful value by formally adopting the principles of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter. Zain currently operates in very challenging markets, many of which are negatively affected by conflict either internally or in their surrounding areas. Several of our operating countries – including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and South Sudan – are enduring crises of human displacement due to these conflicts. In the case of Iraq and South Sudan, internal violence and instability has impacted all facets of society and human livelihood, and has placed significant strains on our business operations, including direct damage to our infrastructure. As such, the adoption of the Charter is a significant step towards fulfilling our sustainability agenda which centers around leveraging our core business to address prevailing socioeconomic and environmental deficits in our markets.

We consider connectivity to be a major prerequisite and enabler of human welfare in modern societies. In the case of the displaced – for which there are over 10 million in our operating markets alone – both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees identify mobile connectivity as a basic need, one that is critical to ensuring they are able to receive vital information and maintain contact with their families. With this in mind, we are committed to working with governments, industry peers and civil society to make sure we are prepared and have in place the necessary protocols to maintain business continuity in extreme or unforeseen circumstances. The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter represents a global best practice in this regard and as such we are proud to formally align our policies and practices with the Charter.

At Zain, we have considerable experience in overcoming challenges that have resulted from crisis situations. One example is in Iraq, when on August 23, 2014, the detonation of a car bomb in Kirkuk targeting Kurdish security forces resulted in major damage to one of Zain’s core sites located nearby. The result was a complete outage of 850 network sites across six Iraqi provinces. Swiftly implementing our contingency plans allowed us to restore connectivity to three and a half provinces by the following day, with full service restoration achieved two days after the attack. Another example of Zain’s crisis management occurred immediately after South Sudan’s declaration of independence in 2011, which was almost immediately followed by mass human migration between Sudan and South Sudan. This movement placed enormous strain on Zain’s network capabilities, and necessitated the use of emergency measures in order to maintain network service over the areas of concern.

In the future, Zain hopes to work with the GSMA on the development of a partnership framework that involves a multi-stakeholder approach that will include other network operators, regulators, governments, and humanitarian organizations; the goal for which would be to improve our collective capabilities of providing coordinated responses during crises and disasters. We have already developed a Business Continuity Management and Disaster Recovery program that is in line with ISO 22301 across all of our operating companies, and have elevated the Risk Management function internally, most notably through the establishment of a Board Risk Committee that reports directly to the Zain Group Board of Directors. Going forward, we are considering the development of plans that would enable us to roll out emergency measures in collaboration with other network operators. Such plans might include access to site sharing, mobile BTS sharing, and waivers for inter-operator calls and SMS charges in emergency situations.

Facilitating access to mobile connectivity during extreme circumstances and hardship can offer substantial relief to impacted populations. Considering Zain’s operating context and our commitment to utilizing our core business to addressing national and regional challenges, it makes perfect sense for us as an organization to adopt the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter Principles. We look forward to working with all relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that we maximize our ability to respond to all current and future situations of adversity within our markets.

Note: The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter is supported by UN OCHA, the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Signatories include Ooredoo Group, Axiata Group, Smart Communications, Globe Telecom, Roshan, Etisalat, Telefonica, Zain, Millicom and Ericsson. It was created following a series of industry workshops and collaboration facilitated by the GSMA Disaster Response program, in association with UN agencies, mobile operators, vendors and NGOs.

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