As many as 108 people are confirmed dead after a boat on which they were travelling on Lake Albert in western Uganda capsized last weekend.
The death toll is feared to rise even higher as the boat is reported to have been carrying almost 150 passengers, apparently all Congolese refugees, who were attempting to return home following an improvement in the security situation at home and poor conditions at their camp in Uganda.
Such tragedies have happened so many times in the past, especially on Lake Victoria and Lake Albert, Uganda’s two largest water bodies, that newspaper editorials such as this have become a clicheacute.
Yet we can’t tire to demand that everyone concerned do everything possible to make water transport in Uganda safer. More so, it is disturbing that most of the people who use this mode of transport are some of Uganda’s poorest, so they need a voice. Sadly, it could be argued that their social status explains why even dying en masse doesn’t attract big headlines or big pronouncements from the government.
Perhaps if the 108 people had died in a road accident or in a plane crash in Uganda, it would have caused much more ruckus than this boat incident, partly because of the social status of people expected to use these modes of transport.
Every time such a tragedy has occurred, the authorities have lamented how the boats were overloaded, in bad mechanical condition or passengers were not wearing life jackets. The same is being said now, but soon it will be business as usual, until the next tragedy.
The authorities at all levels need to seriously consider regulating water transport. The sector cannot be left to who it may concern as people continue to lose lives so cheaply.
While individual fishermen can get way with their canoes, passenger boats must not operate unregulated. The operators must be made to provide life jackets for all their passengers, maintain the boats in sound mechanical conditions and not exceed the required number of passengers.
Surely that is not too much to ask for.
Source : The Observer