In the eastern district of Butaleja, Henry Higenyi, a local rice-dealer at Namulo trading centre, set up his business a few metres off River Manafwa.
He has since suffered massive losses whenever the river bursts its banks and floods the area. Last year, Higenyi says, floods destroyed his rice crops worth Shs 30 million and he spent another Shs 2.5 million on repairing damages to his shelling machine.
Higenyi lamented in a recent interview: ‘There’s not much I could do to escape such losses since it was due to unpredictable natural causes.”
Many dealers and farmers in this flood-prone area and other parts of Butaleja have lost produce, homes, property and lives in recent years. But last week, Higenyi and hundreds of Namulo residents were in celebrations after government switched on a floods surveillance system in their area.
Constructed by the Uganda Communications Commission, with support from the International Communications Union, the floods Early Warning System will monitor River Manafwa’s water levels and send out an alarm for communities to move to safer grounds in time before ravaging waters strike.
The system, which cost $300,000 (Shs 780 million), is powered by solar panels and has sensors placed in the river. Its warning siren can be heard in a radius of five kilometres. It has a computer-equipped control centre based at Butaleja district headquarters, from where officials can feed in warning messages in local languages.
In his remarks at the launch, the minister for Information and Communications Technology (ICT), John Nasasira, appealed to locals to heed warnings aired by the system in a bid to save property and lives in future. Nasasira also called on local leaders to protect the system and its infrastructure against vandalism.
Disaster Preparedness Minister, Hilary Onek, UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi, ITU representatives, area MPs and local government officials attended the function. Earlier in the day, Nasasira opened UCC’s eastern region office in Mbale town.
The new office will monitor content of local radio programmes and supervise televisions as they switch from analogue to digital broadcasting. Nasasira said such activities were part of government’s wider plan to use ICT to spur rural transformation by creating jobs in one of the fast growing sectors.
According to statistics from the ICT ministry, Uganda has nine million internet users, representing 20 per cent penetration, while 19 million people use telephone services.
Source : The Observer