Up to 5,000 people die each year on Lake Victoria as a result of piracy, drowning and other accidents. Now the 200,000 fishermen who earn their living on Lake Victoria can now use cell phones to call for help free-of-charge should they run into trouble on the 69,000 km² body of water, the world’s second largest inland lake.
The new service, launched in July, is the result of a collaboration between mobile operator Zain, global communications technology provider Ericsson and the GSMA Development Fund, the charitable arm of the trade association serving the mobile phone industry. Zain and Ericsson upgraded the existing infrastructure and built an additional 21 radio sites – three of them solar-powered – to provide cell phone coverage up to 20 kilometers into the lake. This ensures coverage to over 90% of fishing zones.
When fishermen in distress call the free emergency number, Ericsson’s Mobile Position System, which determines the geographical location of mobile subscribers, will enable emergency services to locate the mobile signal of the caller and relay the information to a Rescue Coordination Center run by Uganda’s National Lake Rescue Initiative (NLRI), which operates rescue boats. The service also has the capacity to alert the crews of nearby boats to the location of the boat in distress.
The initiative was the result of a 2005 feasibility study conducted by the East African Community (EAC) to evaluate and recommend technologies for a maritime communications system for Lake Victoria, which constitutes the world’s largest freshwater fishery, producing 700,000 to 800,000 metric tons of fish annually worth about $400 million. As well as providing increased safety and security, the extended cell phone coverage is also expected to provide an economic boost to the commercial fishing sector and to the tourism and transportation industries.
Source: The Whitaker Group, Registered Foreign Agent For Uganda