Jean-François Cazenave is the President of Télécoms Sans Frontières, which he co-founded with Monique Lanne-Petit, in 1998. He had been a Senior Manager for France Telecom since 1974 and has been on secondment to TSF since 1999. Before dedicating his life to TSF, Mr Cazenave had already founded two other ‘traditional’ humanitarian organisations. He participated in interventions in Iraq (Kurdistan), in 1991, during the war in Croatia, and more than 50 times in Bosnia Herzegovina, between 1992 and 1996, then in Albania in 1997 and 1998. He worked during wars in Kosovo (1999), in Afghanistan (2001) and in Iraq (2003) and also worked on the ground after natural disasters such as in Turkey, Thailand, El Salvador, Peru and Syria. Since its creation in 1998, TSF implemented more than 40 missions worldwide assisting over 300 NGOs and millions of affected civilians. TSF is a partner of the Humanitarian Office of the European Commission (ECHO) and member of the United Nations Working Group for Emergency Telecommunications (WGET). Backed by the world’s biggest telecommunications operators, TSF is today the leading humanitarian NGO specialising in emergency telecommunications thanks to a worldwide coverage and three permanent bases in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Jean-François Cazenave often directly coordinates emergency missions on disaster fields. He was notably in Sri Lanka following the 26th December Tsunami and Niger in August 2005. He also coordinated missions in Morocco in February 2004, after the Al Hoceima earthquake and recently co-ordinated missions in Philippines in December 2004.
For ten years, Telecoms Sans Frontières (TSF) has used telecommunications to help in the prevention, warning, response and management of humanitarian crises. The idea was to give every refugee from a disaster three minutes of communication to contact loved ones and look after their vital interests. Today, TSF also provides communications to help coordinate relief efforts. TSF is now branching out and cooperating in projects, including the ITU’s Connect the World Initiative, to use ICT for regional development.
Telecoms Sans Frontières (TSF) is the result of more than ten years’ experience in general humanitarian aid for refugees. The organisation was born following cries from those who had lost everything and from a basic call to one’s conscience: refugees do not have the chance to call family to exchange news or ask for help. TSF was set up in 1998, only two years after the emergence of the first mobile satellite telephone and when worldwide coverage was patchy. The objective was to offer three minutes of communication to every family affected by a humanitarian crisis. In a camp in Mile, on the frontier in Darfour in August 2004, a mother had been without news from her son since they had both fled from their village, more than three months before. She learnt, thanks to one call, that he was alive, safe and well in Khartoum. Everywhere, the lines of people waiting grow longer. In applying the numerous possibilities that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) offer for humanitarian purposes in more than 40 countries, TSF has, above all, even in the remotest areas, remained faithful to its brief: to communicate is a universal need. Rescue teams who arrive following a natural disaster often lack efficient means of communication to coordinate their actions on the ground, to exchange information. It is essential to rapidly install a crisis centre with Internet access, with telephones and fax lines, at the very heart of the disaster from the first hours following a catastrophe. The objective is clear: to save lives and mobilise aid. In Bam, Iran, 26th December 2003, a powerful earthquake killed more than 40,000 people. By transmitting the photo of a little girl whose leg had been crushed by debris to Teheran, TSF managed to recreate her identity. Her passport had been destroyed in the earthquake and she was evacuated to France to be operated on by specialist doctors. ICT – managing humanitarian crises However, it is equally certain that ICT has a primary role to play in the prevention, warning, response and management of humanitarian crises. In the prevention stage, it is important to form and train local emergency response groups on the use of telecommunications equipment in order that they can respond efficiently, rapidly and with much more autonomy during the crisis. All communications tools must be used at maximum efficiency to avoid and alleviate humanitarian crises. The Internet can also serve to reinforce systems for the prevention of food emergencies. In Africa, TSF would like to be involved with local authorities to reinforce the existing Early Warning System (SAP) and to install satellite communication relays in dozens of remote areas to speed up the spread of information and limit the intensity of the crises such as those that occurred on this continent during the summer of 2005. Inspired by TSF’s logistical expertise, the creation in 2006 of its web site for humanitarian warning (http://sahara.tsfi.org/) will further contribute to the improvement of the response time and the organisation of rescue efforts. From the announcement of a catastrophe, this system will contact aid workers, via SMS and email, and then, within three hours, an ‘information pack’ (general information, weather conditions, plane tickets, lodgings, transport on site) will provide the logistics for an immediate response. Beyond emergency response, TSF has a longer-term commitment. The NGO (non-governmental organisation) has been signed up since November 2003 in cooperative projects linked to ICT thanks, notably, to its permanent presence in Nicaragua and Thailand. The global Connect the World initiative, launched by the International Telecommuni-cations Union (ITU), is a powerful opportunity to help rebuild, together, the future of developing countries, to reduce the gulf between them and the richer countries and, above all, to reduce the economic, educational and other social discrepancies between the developing and developed countries. Giving the same opportunity to everyone Mujeres Unidas para la Seguridad Alimentaria (MUSA), or Women United for the Safety of Food, is a Nicaraguan NGO uniting 120 women who cook and distribute meals throughout the capital Managua. The involvement of TSF consists of supporting the countrywide communication lines of MUSA and making portable telephones available, training members in computer use and the Internet and creating email addresses and web sites for them. The objectives of the system are many. Above all, the objective is to give them access to information and get them out of their isolation by providing a permanent link to the outside world. Second, the system facilitates the coordination of their work, allowing them to save time and economise on transport costs. Finally, the system helps them maintain their network of suppliers-buyers and maximise the sale of their products. Following the success of this program, TSF has established projects linked to economic development and education in other communities in Nicaragua, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Connect the World provides an opportunity to show at the World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunis, that there are an infinite number of ways new technologies can be put to use in humanitarian work. The Connect the World initiative serves as a reminder that the use of technology for humanitarian purposes is limited only by our imagination, our practical expertise and our resources.