Ham Radio in Western Sahara - Dx extreme
By EA2JG, Arseli Echeguren
"Ham Radio in Western Sahara at temperatures above 50ºC is a very difficult challenge to overcome".
Western Sahara is a territory located in North Africa bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. In December 1960 it was registered in the list of the 17 non-autonomous territories that are under the supervision of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization.
The country borders to the north on Morocco, to the east on the Atlantic Ocean, to the northeast on Algeria and to the east and south on Mauritania.
During the summer there are usually violent storms and the rains can come in the form of huge downpours.
The thermal contrast between the coastal strip and the inland regions is remarkable; while in the desert they have temperatures above 45º for a long time, on the coast they are in the range of 30º.
Ham radio operations have always developed in desert territory inside the country, an area which is under the control of the Saharawi Army, with a mainly military population.
The civilian population, approximately 200,000 inhabitants, has been living for more than 40 years in 4 camps located in the neighbouring country of Algeria, enduring the rigorous weather conditions of the desert, where surviving in summer at about 50º is a heroic task and where the international aid is essential to provide the basics so that the population can eat.
With this difficult scenario, in 1987 we envisaged the creation of a new entity for the world ham radio.
The idea came from Naama Zeinddin S01A, Director of Communications, and was developed jointly with Arseli EA2JG.
I am not going to remember here the long and laborious process that resulted in S0RASD (Sierra Zero Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic) being aired, forming tremendous pile ups difficult to control. The station was operated by S01A Naama, OH2BH Martti and EA2JG Arseli
It was exciting and difficult to describe, finally “Sierra Zero” in the air.
We need to acknowledge the fundamental role of Martti OH2BH, his presence as operator and the high amount of arrangements he made to achieve the recognition by the ARRL of S0 Western Sahara, as a new country.
Since then, several groups of radio amateurs have passed by Western Sahara operating different call signs, surely enjoying the hospitality and generosity of the Saharawi people, but ... have they left anything there, any seed so that S0 continues in the air?
39 years have gone, it was a historical moment that we lived very intensely, but now we have to face the harsh reality experienced by people who inhabit Western Sahara.
Ham Radio in Western Sahara
Taking the first steps, S01WS in the air
In the spring of 2014, Naama and I proposed the difficult task of founding a Radio Club in the RASD (Western Sahara).
We obtained the authorization to occupy a place in Tifariti, it was an adobe construction covered with a wooden structure and metal sheets.
I sent a 100W radio equipment and several dipoles and the Radio Club began its existence. S01A Naama and S01AH Azman operated with their call signs and with S01WS when their professional occupations allowed them so.
For high bands the dipoles are not exactly the best solution so I started to seek help to get a turret, a multiband directional antenna and a rotor, a high cost project if we bear in mind the area of the world we were in.
Thanks to Rodrigo EA7JX, we managed to send a fantastic 59+, one of the best multiband antennas and in the autumn of 2014, Roberto EA2CNU together with Naama S01A and Azman S01AH installed the system with fabulous results.
We must emphasize the important help received from Kan JA1BK (Japan) for the purchase of crucial elements such as an antenna and an air conditioner.
The catastrophe and time of solidarity
After 2 years operating S01WS and after getting about 100,000 communications, some hurricane-force winds strike and knock down the turret, the antenna falls down and the rotor breaks.
Also, strong torrential rains arrive, causing severe damage to the precarious adobe constructions where most people live, and the weak radio house falls down, too. A person becomes injured.
Nowadays S01WS is still active but under critical conditions, the Radio Club is located in a camping tent, a 5m tower has been lifted with the remains of the previous one, which is used as a support for the dipoles.
We get very sad but at the same time we recover strength again so that the world ham radio community has the opportunity to communicate with Western Sahara.
Again, we request the help from our Japanese friends and an important contribution arrives for the purchase of a linear amplifier, and a pleasant surprise, Khan JA1BK gets the company YAESU to donate a FT DX 3000.
Also, thanks to Fernando EA8AK, who helped with the printing of the first QSL cards, and to Paul F6EXV and Jan DJ8NK for their valuable collaboration.
Reconstruction of the radio house and the new turret
The radio activity in the ham radio bands has never been as high as during these last three years, but much remains to be done in order to tackle other stages to provide many enthusiasts with S0 in the low bands (160 meters) and in 50 MHz, a very whimsical frequency where they are now operating with the 40m dipole.
Thanks to EA7JX solidarity, we have sent a new turret and a SPID rotor donated by WiMo but we still need other materials, especially to build the four walls again and the S01WS shack roof so that it does not have to be operating from an undesirable place.
To avoid future frights with the scarce but violent rains, the new S01WS QTH will be built with cement blocks. The materials cannot be sent from Europe but they can be bought in the neighbouring countries.
S01WS must continue in the air
At the end of this year 2016 we want to undertake the task of repairing the antenna 59+ (only two elements were damaged), to set a new antenna for 50 MHz and a new rotor. We lack financial resources and so we are now calling for international solidarity in order to be able to tackle this work and keep Western Sahara in the air many years to come. Surely many new DXers will be waiting to connect with Naama, Azman, Mahfud and other new ham radio amateurs who hope to operate from that country in the Sahara desert.
Ham radio in Western Sahara at temperatures above 50ºC is a very difficult challenge to overcome, Saharawis can do it but they need your help.
You can find more information in the web site www.saharadx.com .
Azman S01AH y Naama S01A en la vecina localidad de Bir Lehlu.
Naama S01A operando un pile up desde la estación del radioclub S01WS.
Las lluvias torrenciales dejaron estampas insólitas en el Sáhara. Grandes lagos después de las riadas. En la foto: EA2CNU, S01AH y EA2JG.
La caseta de la radio, construida con adobe, se derrumbó con las lluvias torrenciales y atrapó a una persona. Los equipos se pudieron salvar.
S01AH, EA2JG, S01A y EA2CNU en octubre del año pasado.
Azman y Naama montando la S9+ de EANTENNA. Con solo 100 watios, señales S9 en Japón y Australia.
Solidaridad y radioafición; Roberto, EA2CNU junto a Mahfud S01MZ, Naama S01A y Azman S01AH en el cuarto de radio de S01WS.