Lake Victoria storm warning system – blending technology with culture

Friday, October 31, 2014

Some 3.5 million people depend on Lake Victoria, shared by Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, for livelihoods in fishing, ferries and tourism. At any one time there are likely to be more than 100,000 people on the lake. But because of its local climate, storms catch people at unawares. This hazard is related to the lake’s moisture and tropical heat interacting with the surrounding hills and mountains. There are no accurate figures, but it is assumed that up to 5,000 people die each year.

A Mobile Weather Alert service began with a pilot project in 2011 in Uganda. Using a simple traffic light system, fishermen are informed by text message if the conditions are green, through to red, with red meaning ‘take action’ to avoid predicted high winds or thunderstorms. Uptake is likely to be good because of the widespread popularity of mobile phones. 
The project acknowledged that it could not be simply led by technology and required working from many angles, with an appreciation of local culture. It may have discovered a way to marry local culture to modern technology to overcome some of the cultural barriers to disaster preparedness. The next stage is to ensure this works across the lake and all three countries.

The Mobile Weather Alert project on Lake Victoria is featured in the IFRC World Disaster Report 2014, here:

Photo Credit: © Clare Wise de Wet

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