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On Tuesday, October 25, 2016, the African Development Bank approved a US $25-million loan for a multinational project to establish a safety-of-life communications systems for Lake Victoria. The largest lake in Africa accommodates a fleet of 70,000 vessels, mostly individual fishermen, but lacks any alert or rescue systems. Consequently as many as 5,000 people die in the lake each year. The loan will finance the extension of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks on the lake and the creation of 22 rescues centres in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, contributing to save lives and stimulate business for the benefit of the economy of the entire Lake Victoria basin.
“The project will support the provision of safe, efficient transport links, and safe fishing activities that are essential to achieving the goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development,” said Amadou Oumarou, Director of Transport and ICT department at the AfDB.
Lake Victoria plays a central economic role in the region. It has the largest freshwater fisheries in Africa, providing livelihood for three to four million people around its shoreline. The maritime routes also represent a great potential for trade and tourism industry. Nevertheless that potential remain partially untapped due to the lack of a comprehensive navigation and safety system to protect those who use the lake.
The project will address that important gap by establishing a Maritime Communication Network (MCN), based on the existing mobile (GSM) enhanced coverage on the lake and signal location detection features. The SOS alerts will be given by SMS or phone call to the Maritime Rescue Communication Centres (MRCC) which will be established in Mwanza, Tanzania; or to two sub centers based in Kisumu (Kenya) and Entebbe (Uganda). These regional centres will then dispatch rescue boats based in one of the 22 Emergency Search and Rescue (SAR) stations distributed around the lake.
“GSM is by far the most cost effective solution for maritime communications on Lake Victoria and the one that is most likely to be adopted by lake users,” Enock Yonazi, Project Team Leader at the AfDB, said. To prevent accident, the lake users will also receive weather alerts by SMS or community radios. At completion, the project is expected to increase the GSM coverage of the Lake from 40% to 80% and mortal accidents are expected to be reduced five-fold.
Putting in place safe and secure maritime and transport infrastructure will contribute to the realization of the region’s Development Strategy which is articulated in the Bank’s High 5 priorities, especially the fifth priority – Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa. A part of the investment will contribute to the development of the East African Maritime Transport Strategy and the preparation of the Lake Victoria Transport Development Program, a long-term plan which will stimulate both public and private investments, especially in fisheries, lake transport and tourism.