As the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan continued high-level talks in Kabul today, Ericsson and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worked to set up a complete mobile telecommunications network dedicated to supporting UN humanitarian operations in the war-ravaged country, UN officials said.
“This is unique for the relief world, and a big step for telecom development,” said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, recalling that the initiative stemmed from a proposal by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report to the 2000 UN Millennium Summit.
According to Mr. Fawzi, Mr. Brahimi today attended the second meeting of the Joint Coordination Body comprising the Interim Administration, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the UN. Among the topics discussed were ISAF’s deployment, cooperation with the Interim Administration, the security situation in Kabul and next week’s International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan.
Asked about the mobile phone initiative, Mr. Fawzi called it “a great example of the private sector helping the United Nations on the humanitarian front to set up a telecommunications network in record time.” He said workers had been in the country “climbing mountains, erecting antennae and satellite dishes, and within less than three weeks, they have set up a telecommunications network for the humanitarian family of the UN system to better help the people of this country.”
In Islamabad, a WFP spokesman also underscored the importance of the new initiative in facilitating the agency’s work. “Afghanistan is one of the most cut-off countries in the world terms of telecommunications,” Khaled Mansour told reporters. “One cannot overstress the importance of having better communications in Afghanistan and the breakthrough that this mobile network will provide.”
According to Mr. Mansour, Ericsson is lending all the equipment – which has market value of $5 million – free of charge. “WFP and Ericsson plan to use this experience to build a new fast response telecommunications module for use in future similar operations,” he said.
In another development, the UN announced today that Kabul airport has opened for military flights – carrying troops and equipment – and is expected to open for civilian flights within a few days.