Enabling the Path to Recovery with Critical Connectivity in Nepal

Enabling the Path to Recovery with Critical Connectivity in Nepal

Benegas Brothers Expeditions’ Alpine Guides Rely on Iridium-Enabled Broadband Service to Reestablish Trade Routes and Reconnect Communities in Remote Mountain Villages

The moment the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25th, Damian Benegas and his twin brother Guillermo (Willie) were guiding a group of adventurers on a Mount Everest expedition. The duo leads Benegas Brothers Expeditions and have been summiting mountains around the world for more than 20 years. So when the Everest climb turned from adventure to survival in a matter of seconds, they rallied not only their team, but also their vital communications resources to leap into action.

Immediate Relief Through a Remote Lifeline

As seasoned alpinists, the Benegas Brothers already had satellite communications equipment on hand, which provided an immediate lifeline to both their group of climbers and local victims of the disaster. Using three Iridium Extreme® satellite phones, they connected the people of devastated mountain villages to loved ones near and far, and created a network throughout the surrounding area with access to 24/7 communication. But as recovery efforts progressed, it became clear just how much destruction the initial quake and aftershock had caused, demolishing roads, trails and vital links between villages, isolating remote communities from aid and, in some cases, wiping villages completely off the map.

Recognizing the need to get supplies to those isolated areas, the idea was born to turn rescue into revival, and a new mission called “Nepal Relief: Building a Path to Recovery” was underway within weeks of the initial earthquake. The project was simple in design: provide relief through a system of local porters hired to carry food and supplies to remote villages throughout the country. The program would create jobs, keep much-needed aid money in the region and reestablish important trade routes between communities.

For such a plan to be successful, however, the Benegas Brothers and their team required a reliable communications system to coordinate logistics. In support of their ongoing recovery efforts, Iridium provided the Benegas team with an Iridium Pilot® Land Station, which enables instant access to high-speed satellite broadband service through portable, durable and easy-to-use equipment. With the Iridium Pilot Land Station in place, the group set up quickly for deployment to the villages of Singla and Khorla, above Latrak village.

Satellite Communications Support the Path to Recovery

To get Nepal Relief: Building a Path to Recovery off the ground, the Benegas team sent guides on remote, exploratory missions to other villages in the most extreme terrain, relying on the Iridium devices to serve as an emergency connection if anything went wrong along the way. Beyond serving as a lifeline for the explorers though, the Iridium Pilot Land Station in particular became crucial to implementation of the broader recovery program.

Powered by the Iridium® global satellite network, the device supports voice and data applications, such as email and web browsing, and also allows users to use three voice lines simultaneously – perfect for any team in need of reliable communications in remote areas. The equipment gave the team the ability to communicate worldwide with logistics partners, enabling real-time voice and data updates on weather conditions and ETA of supplies. Soon after the start of the project, they had managed to organize more than 400 porters, a distribution center in Baluwa and an organized inventory of basic supplies like rice, sugar, tea, oil, salt and tarps.

Remapping and Connecting Remote Communities

Initially intended to move supplies through the region for just 30 days, the Benegas Brothers’ project is still underway and has evolved into a much larger collaboration between local, regional and global aid workers and organizations. Working with the Hillary Relief Collective, World Food Programme (WFP) Remote Area Operations and other NGOs, they’ve expanded their reach into more remote areas to put more villages and villagers on the map.

Through the summer monsoon season, Damian has continued to guide local porters through the mountains to carve out new trails, repair existing paths and keep supplies moving to local communities. Walking and climbing, they’re assessing the trails to find the best way to reconnect communities and gathering crucial demographic data – sending the information back to partner organization through their Iridium-enabled communications network.

According to Damian Benegas, the most rewarding outcome of their relief work to date has been the ability to provide local villagers with a connection to the outside world. “In the end, I am the most grateful for one particular moment that will stay with me forever,” he said in an email update from Nepal. “Seeing the smile of a mother who was finally able to talk to her son who had been air-lifted to Kathmandu. For 20 days, she had no form of communication with him and, as a result, no idea if he was even alive. To see her smile and her eyes shining when she heard his voice again for the first time was amazing.”

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