At Mobile World Congress 2015, the GSM Association, in partnership with UNOCHA, launched the long awaited Humanitarian Connectivity Charter - a document signed by a group of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) committing them to support customers and responders before, during, and after humanitarian emergencies, with the overall aim of ensuring response activities are predictable and coordinated.
The charter builds on good practice from some MNOs and the demands of the humanitarian response community. It contains guiding principles, as well a list of commitments from MNO signatories, and covers a wide range of issues from short-codes to roaming to information sharing i.e. on coverage outages.
Key principles in the charter include coordination between MNOs, standardising processes during each phase of a disaster to ensure predictability, and strengthening partnerships between the mobile industry, governments and the humanitarian sector.
Following the charter a list of activities have been drafted that signatories will commit to working towards, notably that MNOs will make concerted efforts to work with regulators to identify, and hold on standby, a zero-rated short-code to be activated to support Humanitarian Information Services.
The first operators to adopt the principles in the Charter are Axiata, Etisalat, Ooredoo and Smart Communications, who collectively represent over one billion subscribers in 35 countries. The Charter is also being supported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said the charter will ‘enable people affected by crises to gain access to vital communications.’
Following the launch at Mobile World Congress, stakeholders came together to discuss the charter and the role of MNOs in humanitarian response. As part of the session, UNOCHA launched a business consultation with related private sector organisations in the Mobile Industry. This information, along with that from other business consultations, will feed into the World Humanitarian Summit, planned for 2016.
In terms of next steps, the GSMA agreed to lead the charge in operationalising the charter. A working group will be formed with the aim of addressing three important issues referenced in it:
- Leveraging scale and reach of the industry
- Communicating with communities directly affected by crisis
- Interoperability of the Mobile and Humanitarian sectors
The working group will allow MNOs to share good practice amongst one-another, act as a platform for identifying and addressing obstacles to implementing the charter, and feed in the needs, and demands of MNOs, from the humanitarian response community.
For further information please visit the GSMA website.