LONDON The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has joined forces with Vodafone to work on a standard telecommunications system for aid agencies around the world to improve logistics and response times to disasters.
In natural disasters or attacks such as the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, communication systems can be damaged, destroyed or severely restricted due to heavy demand.
The two groups believe a system where all agencies are trained in the same way to work together to re-establish communications could improve response times to major emergencies and allow agencies to better reach those affected.
"In an emergency, the ability to communicate saves lives," WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told Reuters in an interview.
"To us this is central to our work, we're the global 911 and we have to be able to respond, we have to be able to active everyone who has these capabilities."
The WFP is the lead United Nations agency on providing communications in emergency situations.
The United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Group Foundation have pledged $4.3 million (2.2 million pounds) between them while the WFP has pledged a further $1.8 million to develop a training programme open to all humanitarian relief organisations.
Over the next three years, 500 information and communication technology workers will be trained to deploy quickly. Sheeran said they would ensure that all the agencies were able to work on the same communication system, and this would also allow smaller, local agencies, to be involved quickly.
"Sometimes we'll have up to 2,000 partners working on any given situation and there's many local NGOs that are part of the network and can be called on as part of the response," she said.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Andrew Roche)