Amateur radio bolsters emergency telecommunications preparedness in disaster-stricken Mozambique
“Victor Delta Foxtrot, are you copying? Weather check – complete »
The voice crackles over the radio waves of the port city of Maputo in Mozambique. This is the first radio control of this type in a country still reeling from the double disaster of cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019. The two extreme weather events hit Mozambique just six weeks apart, becoming two of the deadliest storms on record in Africa.
Cyclone Idai claimed 1,300 lives in southeast Africa while Cyclone Kenneth was one of the strongest landfall on the mainland with extraordinary winds of 220 km/h.
Across Mozambique, severe flooding from Kenneth destroyed homes, knocked down power lines and left rubble where roads and buildings stood. In one of the worst moments of the Idai disaster, communities fled to rooftops and trees to escape flash floods that battered their homes below.
Emerging from a landscape torn apart by floods and high winds, the Government of Mozambique and its partners have placed disaster risk reduction at the heart of their agenda. African nations gathered in Maputo earlier this year to hold climate talks ahead of COP27 which kicks off in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday.
More than ever, disaster-resilient telecommunications capacity is essential.
In times of crisis, amateur radio communications – called radio amateurs – play an essential role. When Internet networks are down, wires are cut, and phone lines are overloaded, amateur radio provides a lifeline for emergency assistance, information, and coordination.
One of the first types of radio communications to be invented, amateur radio operates on an analog system that covers large areas where users can move in and out of coverage – often the exact conditions faced by responders and affected communities in post-disaster situations.
The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), the technology division of the World Food Program in Mozambique, and the National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction, assisted the National Institute of Communications of Mozambique (INCM) to set up a prototype of amateur radio station in Maputo, able to reach any place in the country.
Other amateur radio stations will follow in the provinces of Pemba, Beira, Niassa, Lichinga, Tete, Zambezia and Inhambane.
“Together, we assessed the needs and drafted a national action plan for telecommunications readiness in Mozambique. Setting up an amateur radio network with license and capacity building is one of the 18 planned projects,” said Sudhir Kumar, Head of Preparation of ETC.
Already, 12 key INCM responders have been trained in the use of amateur radio and equipped with licenses to use amateur radio – a first in Mozambique. Previously, certification for Mozambicans was only possible from neighboring South Africa, or even further afield.
Now any licensed responder can join the disaster resilience movement via amateur radio.
“The ham operators are volunteers, so they can take their gear and set up in a government office or response readiness area and provide communications from there. This makes amateur radio particularly useful in an emergency,” Kumar said.
Mozambique’s youth, who make up more than half of the country’s population, are gearing up to join these telecommunications readiness efforts.
In the aftermath of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, young people in Mozambique faced devastating hardships. In the districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge and Mutare, 60% of those affected by the disaster were children. Throughout the country, thousands of classrooms have been damaged or destroyed and the education of half a million children and young people has been disrupted.
Electronics and communications engineering students from *’*Instituto Superior de Transportes e Comunicações’, a college in Maputo, will participate in a workshop planned by ETC and PAM Mozambique on the use of amateur radio in the context of disaster response.
“Computer science and telecommunications students are thrilled to be part of the amateur radio culture. This workshop will be a starting point for a long-term commitment,” said Elton Sixpence, Director of Graduate Programs at ISUTC.
WFP Mozambique hopes to create a pool of trainees trained and ready to respond to any emergency. Preparing young people to participate in disaster response will build the capacity to create a network of radio operators who can communicate across the country, in any situation.
The climate crisis is intensifying extreme weather events across the globe. The impacts on vulnerable communities in Southern and Eastern Africa will only increase in the years to come.
In the face of these challenges, a resilient new network of radio communicators in Mozambique will be ready, transmitter in hand.