“Super-flood” causes major communications challenges

Photo caption: Flooding in Pakistan back in 2010 caused major displacement (Source: Flickr

Over the past week, flooding has intensified in Pakistan and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in what is being described as a “Super-flood” and the “worst flooding in half a century.” More than a million people are thought to be affected with thousands fleeing to find safer ground and many others stranded.

According to reports, a significant failure in communication, including the mobile network in some instances, has hampered rescue efforts. Many of those affected by flooding are in hard to reach areas and currently lack access to power and mobile services. Some have taken to twitter and social media to call for help and share their location for rescue workers, or to find out about the status of loved ones. The Government, Army and Air Force have been called in to support MNO teams in restoration activities, and a government spokesman has said that “efforts are in overtime to restore mobile towers.”

 “The lack of communication is a major setback because the commanding officer cannot communicate with his own team,” said Jaydeep Singh, a commanding officer with India’s National Disaster Response Force.

Mobile operators have dispatched teams to the area and have been working around the clock with government and response authorities to restore services in the region. Aircel and BSNL have regained functionality of 58 BTS that were knocked offline. Vodafone India has reported that it has restored service in Srinagar and key towns such as  Anantnag,QazigundMattanAvantipura and Ashumukam. VSATs have also been deployed to the area to provide additional satellite back-haul.

“Our equipment is underwater and power supply is also down,” he said. “It will take time to restore the network.” M. C Chaube, Executive Director of Bharat Sanchar Nigam (Indian State-run Provider)

In addition to restoration activities, Mobile Network Operators are providing support services directly to subscribers. Vodafone is adding extra talk-time top ups to subscribers with low balances so they can connect with loved ones and access emergency services. Aircell has announced that it has opened its network, allowing any mobile subscriber to roam in order to get connected. Aircel also provided free airtime for two days to pre and post-paid subscribers in Jammu and Kashmir and has set up mobile charging units and call centres equipped to provide free device charging and calls. For its part, Idea is “auto-crediting Rs 12 in the accounts of customers with low balance, in the Srinagar region, to ensure they are able to make emergency calls.”

The GSMA Disaster Response programme continue to monitor the situation and remain ready to offer support to our members where requested.

For more information about the current crisis, see the links below:

“Super-flood” Risk in Pakistan

Scale of Flooding Hinders Relief Efforts in India and Pakistan

Floods hit a million in Pakistan, anger rises in Indian Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir Floods: Telecom Services Slowly Being Restored

Airtel, Vodafone, Idea in emergency mode to restore mobile coverage in flood ravaged J&K

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