Sudatel highlights the mobile industry’s key role in elevating the quality of life for Internally Displaced People

October 23, 2017 | Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation | Sub-Saharan Africa | Guest Blogger

In July 2017, Sudatel Group became the newest signatory of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter (HCC), bringing the total number to 115 MNOs across 78 countries. Signatories of the HCC work to implement a number of activities to enhance access to communications and information during disasters and in times of crisis. Sudatel Group is embedding such activities into their core strategy across their four operating markets: Sudan, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. As we welcome them to the HCC community, we asked them to share some of their experiences, challenges and lessons learned to date.

Article by Nazar Arabi, Chief Strategy Officer, Sudatel Group

Africa today hosts 30% of the world’s forcibly displaced populations that have been affected by crises, whether natural crises or armed conflicts, amounting to a total of 19.6 million people across the continent. Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who have been forced to flee their homes and relocate to destination safer place within their country’s borders, are left with basic life support services such as food and shelter in rescue camps developed by humanitarian organisations, but are often deprived of access to healthcare, education or any other services.

ICT has the power to transform the lives of IDPs immensely, as connectivity is considered a key factor for development and should be comparable to food and shelter in supporting crisis-affected communities. With 8 out of 10 people in Africa owning a mobile phone, ICT can be leveraged to benefit affected communities in various ways, from helping IDPs communicate and reconnect with their loved one and conducting emergency calls for help, to accessing vital health and security information and obtaining financial services, including monetary aid from humanitarian organisations.

Technology is also considered a key enabler for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as the provision of ICT enabled solutions such as e-health, e-education and smart metering can directly address other humanitarian needs and ensure the attainment of clean water and energy, good health and wellbeing, quality education and many more SDG Goals that would elevate people’s quality of life.

Mobile network operators are therefore positioned at the forefront of providing ICT for development by leveraging their heavy infrastructure and their nation-wide network coverage to provide core voice and data services. Additionally, Value Added Services like Mobile Money can also play a major role in providing financial services to IDPs thus addressing financial inclusion in remote affected areas.

Successful ICT for development initiatives are emerging and gaining substantial traction in developing countries, including the GSMA Disaster Response programme, which provides effective and coordinated support to humanitarian responders and disaster-affected communities through partnerships with NGOs, governments and MNOs. Another distinguished program is Refunite, the world’s largest global family tracing platform, which supports in reconnecting displaced people with their loved ones in collaboration with the UN and Ericsson. Refunite typically penetrates new markets by developing partnerships with MNOs.



Sudatel Telecom Group, Sudan’s national operator and the parent company to its international operating companies in West Africa, has been actively involved in this space and is categorizing its efforts in this field as a strategic group direction, as Sudan is currently hosting more than 3.7 million IDPs and is considered one of the top hosting countries in Africa. Further plans to extend similar efforts to its footprint in Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea are in the pipeline.

Following the resolution of the ongoing conflicts in Darfur, IDP camps were regarded as new villages for the displaced people, many of which are covered with mobile networks. A pilot study was conducted in Darfur to understand the mobile usage behaviour of IDPs in pre-identified camps.Results from the study have shown that mobile penetration is around 30%, with half of phone owners using the internet, reflecting a positive indication of ICT literacy.

Consequently, a three-phase strategy was formulated in this regard:
1. Connecting IDPs – through 3G network expansion, handset subsidies, Universal Service Fund support, and mobile awareness campaigns;
2. Connecting with IDPs – through toll-free emergency call centre set up, IVR and SMS based health and safety awareness messages, voice and data bundle donation campaigns, and crowdfunding; and
3. Transforming IDPs – through Mobile Financial Services, e-health, e-education and other digital services.

Moreover, as part of the strategic direction that we are pursuing, Sudatel group has become the latest signatory member of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, a GSMA initiative that supports improved access to communication and information for those affected by crisis, in collaboration with various UN agencies, by providing support to MNOs to improve preparedness and resilience among mobile networks.

As a telco, we stand a great chance of contributing to the social and economic development of the countries we operate in and therefore we are presented with a responsibility towards supporting the displaced segment of our populations. Moving beyond the traditional CSR activities that we are currently pursuing, active participation in humanitarian activities that would have a huge social and economic impact is deemed necessary.

However, telcos, NGOs and local governments cannot implement truly transformational ICT for development initiatives independently. Therefore, a collaborative model in the form of Public-Private Partnerships is imperative to execute initiatives that will ensure sustainability and resilience of humanitarian support programmes and truly transform the lives of IDPs.

The Disaster Response programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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