Econet deploys drones, Helicopters, Boats In Search Of Cyclone Survivors

Econet has deployed the full might of its organisational capacity in search of survivors of Cyclone Idai.

Zimbabwe’s largest telecoms company has brought in six helicopters, several drones and rescue boats as it steps up its disaster relief efforts in the worst-hit districts of Chumanimani and Chipinge in the eastern part of the country.

“We believe no stone should be left unturned to in the search and rescue of survivors,” said Mr Douglas Mboweni, Econet Zimbabwe Group CEO, who has virtually left his full-time job to focus on the crisis. Mr Mboweni is leading a team of more than 50 volunteers from within the Econet group, its foundation (Higherlife) as well as private citizens drawn from across the country.

The use of drones is part of Econet’s relentless search for innovative solutions to problems. Mr Mboweni said: “We use drones for inspecting structural defects on our towers, among other network deployment related things, but we realised that we can use them in the search for survivors. They are better than helicopters in certain situations because they fly much lower. We give all information to the authorities, that we are working closely with.”

Part of the drones used in search of cyclone survivors

For the Econet CEO, the most exciting thing is not just the technology but the partnership with other companies as well as with the customers. He said companies in Victoria Falls and Kariba had sent specialist boat crews to navigate the rivers, while others had supplied specialist equipment.

“We also have doctors who have joined us as volunteers,” he said. He added that the national airline, Air Zimbabwe had also partnered with Econet to get cyclone donations from people in Victoria Falls and Bulawayo through Econet Shops, and airlifting them to Harare, where Econet logistics teams were transporting them to Mutare, enroute to the holding camps in Chimanimani and Chipinge for distribution to the victims. 

Mr Mboweni commended the international and local medical crews working with field hospitals and local hospitals. “You need to see what is happening out there. We have amazing people and also friends who have quietly come to help us.”

Mr Mboweni also revealed that the company was working closely with the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) as well as the Airforce of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in the disaster relief effort.

“We are all part of Team Zimbabwe really, on this. We are working very closely together. If we find a survivor or a body, we call the army, police or the Airforce. We are even sharing resources on the ground.”

Econet has released $5 million cash for the search and rescue efforts and has also been raising money from donors internationally.

“Mr Masiyiwa and his wife are raising money for all our foreign currency requirements. They have paid for things like the helicopter hire from South Africa and for fuel,” Mr Mboweni said.

Econet is already thinking of the next phase of the challenges ahead.

“After the search and rescue, comes recovery and burial of our dead. We have already activated our EcoSure funeral policy team and we have delivered at least 50 coffins in our our efforts to support the families bury their dead.”

The real work according, to Mr Mboweni, is to help communities recover and get back on their feet again.

“Being able to help schools to re-open, communities to recover as well as our farmers and small businesses, is the huge challenge that lies ahead, but we willing to take it on. It’s sad and and devastating what happened. But we consider ourselves more than just a business; we are part of the fabric of the economy and of the communities we serve.”

The Econet group entities involved in the relief effort are Econet Wireless, Cassava Smartech (incorporating Steward Bank and EcoCash), Liquid Telecom and Highlife Foundation.

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