Rwanda Meteorology Agency has started using short message service (SMS) alerts in disaster early warning mechanism in several parts of the country.
Joseph Sebaziga, the forecasting officer at the meteo agency, confirmed the development which should significantly upgrade the country’s ability to minimise effects of disasters in the coming months.
Sebaziga told The New Times last week that the agency started sending out messages a few days ago.
The system, implemented through MTN-Rwanda services, signed deal that sees automatic messages sent to local leaders, NGOs, public institutions, church leaders, cooperatives, the youth and women councils at local level, schools, and Police, according to Sebaziga.
Other recipients of the messages are the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, and Rwanda Red Cross that can immediately react and pass on the sent message to their staff and members of the public.
Sebaziga said the short message system so far reaches more than 600 contacts.
He said the agency is working closely with local government entities to avail more numbers but said it was still expensive sending a text at Rwf3.
“Imagine sending SMS to millions of Rwandans who have mobile phones. With our radar system, we should be able to share urgent varied disaster warnings as each district may have its own patterns. It means we can send messages more than once every day, which is costly. That is why we still need more resources for an efficient system,” Sebaziga said.
The new system started with the most prone districts of Kigali city, Nyabihu, Ngororero, Rutsiro and Rubavu districts, before it can be rolled out to other districts, according to John Ntaganda Semafara, the director of Rwanda Meteorological Agency.
The initiative is supported by Rwanda Environment Management Authority, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, and Rwanda Climate Fund (FONERWA), among other sponsors.
Alex Mulisa, the coordinator of FONERWA, said the fund would continue to support climate change adaptation projects.
The Mayor of Nyabihu, Abdulatif Twahirwa, told The New Times that they have been receiving some alerts via emails which were not easily accessible without internet.
Twahirwa added that the district would build lines of communication with grassroots leaders to convey the short messages to residents in time.
He cited Mukamira, Bigogwe, Muringa and Jenda among the most disaster-prone sectors of the district.
“Last year, we also faced flooding and landslides where Mukamira Sector was affected, and the district office was flooded by water coming down from volcanoes forests. Muringa Sector was affected by landslides that destroyed the road,” Twahirwa said.
Jean Baptiste Nsengiyumva, the director of risk reduction and preparedness at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, said the short message service mechanism will help people to prepare for disasters.
In 2013, disasters, including landslides, floods, fires, heavy rains, and lightning claimed lives of 112 people, 124 were injured, while 3,934 houses were damaged.
More lives were lost in Rubavu, Nyarugenge, Karongi, Nyabihu, and Rulindo districts and houses destroyed in Gasabo, Musanze, Kirehe, Nyarugenge, Rulindo, and Rwamagana.
Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Agency July 2015 report indicates that Rwanda’s mobile penetration rate was at 72.6 per cent, with over 8.1 million subscribers.
This article was made in the framework of the Media21 Africa Project by CFI, the French operator in media cooperation.