Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Localised mobile weather service improving safety of fisher people in Uganda

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] A new partnership involving the use of mobile technology, weather forecasting and local know-how to provide a localised weather alert service is improving the safety of fishing people in villages on Lake Victoria in Uganda.
A pilot partnership, the Uganda Department of Meteorology (UDoM), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), MTN, Ericsson, National Lake Rescue Institute (NLRI) and the Kalangala Fishing community have made it possible the delivery of daily weather forecasts and well-timed warnings in local languages. 
The pilot phase is being tested by over 1000 fishermen in the Kalangala District of Lake Victoria. MTN, Grameen Foundation AppLab Uganda and Ericsson are preparing a wider service offering together with UDoM, which will then be available for the entire Lake Victoria community in the next three months.
On completion of the pilot, MTN Uganda, jointly with UDoM will deliver the mobile service free of charge to MTN customers. Availing the weather information service will enable fishermen and traders to make informed decisions such as when and where to fish in Lake Victoria, thus helping to save lives and preserve livelihoods.
The pilot scheme that involves training 19 fishermen community representatives in basic understanding of weather forecasts and how to respond to various alerts was announced on May 10.
The community representatives using mobile phones will pass on their knowledge to fishermen and traders to sign up to the Mobile Weather Alert service with the value of the Mobile Weather Alert forecast service is being repeatedly confirmed. 
In a survey conducted by Grameen Foundation AppLab Uganda, 200 fishermen using Mobile Weather Alert service reported the weather alert service being important with 96 percent of the respondents saying it has improved the safety of their lives.
Being the world’s second largest fresh water lake, Victoria was chosen for the pilot since it provides a livelihood, directly and indirectly, to over 3.5 million people. It supports Africa's largest inland fishery and produces over 800,000 tons of fish annually, currently worth about USD 600,000,000.

But it is estimates indicate that as many as 5,000 members of the fishing community die in boating accidents in the lake each year because lack of preparation for bad weather conditions.
Uganda fishermen to benefit from localised weather alerts
“This is a real demonstration of the importance of meteorological expertise to our society. It has also provided the Uganda Department of Meteorology with valuable feedback on the reliability of our forecasts for localized conditions on Lake Victoria. In future we hope to extend the Mobile Weather Alert project to other fishing communities, farmers and other community sectors as part of a wider effort to improve the reliability and reach of severe weather forecasting,” said Michael Nkalubo, Commissioner, Uganda Department of Meteorology
”MTN is excited about the pilot, and indeed this partnership, as it allows us to use mobile technology to further touch our communities in a way that brings about socioeconomic change to their daily lives. We also believe that the pilot holds great long-term benefits for the fishing community in the Lake Victoria region, and the rest of the continent,” said Christian de Faria, Group Chief Commercial Officer, MTN.
Mary Power, Director Resource Mobilization, WMO said “Severe Weather and Climate events account for almost 90 percent of natural disasters and related losses of life and property globally. Establishing and sustaining Early Warning Systems in places vulnerable to these events, such as Lake Victoria, where low incomes and marginal living conditions increase peoples` vulnerability, is critical.”
According to Mwambu Wanendeya, Head of Communications and Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability, Ericsson sub Saharan Africa working towards Ericsson’s vision about a Networked Society in Africa is not just about building or expanding networks but also about addressing local issues as well as some of the world’s biggest challenges, including security, climate change, sustainability, and the availability of education and health care.
 Saving Lives on Water and Protecting the Marine Environment, said Tim de Wet, Founder of National Lake Rescue Institute, was a their core objective for marine communities utilizing the waterways of East Africa and the mobile weather alerts has accorded marine communities the basic human right of an ‘informed’ decision as to whether they travel, trade or fish on the Lake.
 “In our work with small-holder farmers across Uganda, we have similarly found strong demand for timely and highly localized weather information. This solution, if properly contextualized, could be a powerful tool to also improve farm productivity and mitigate the risks of climate change through new products such as weather index-base crop insurance,” said Sean Paavo Krepp, Grameen Foundation Country Director.

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