In a flood-prone village in Zambia, villagers are now preventing damage and saving lives using early warning systems relying on emergency telecommunications equipment.
“In Kasaya we have floods almost every year,” says Mulwazi Mulwazi, resident of Kasaya village. “It is a big problem. The worst flooding we experienced was in 2006. Property, crops and livestock were destroyed leaving people with nothing to live on. Two people died. The situation was very critical. We did not have access to clean water and families were sleeping out in the open”.
To alleviate the problem, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) partnered with the Zambia Information and Communication Telecommunication Authority (ZICTA) in December 2017 to install flood early warning systems in Kasaya village, located in the Kazungula District of Zambia’s Southern Province and on Mbeta Island, in the Western Province of Zambia.
“I am very happy with the equipment that has been installed… The residents have seen the investment and I believe that they will heed the call to evacuate seriously when they hear the siren of impending floods”–Mulwazi Mulwazi, Kasaya village resident
The early warning systems send alert messages to local residents urging them to evacuate to higher ground in the event of flooding. This helps save lives during annual seasonal floods and provides governments and humanitarian agencies with information on where relief efforts are needed.
“I work for the water resource management authority and my main task is to keep a daily record of water levels of the river,” says Mulwazi Mulwazi.
“In the past when the river burst its banks, I went around the village urging people to quickly move to higher grounds to escape the floods. Many wouldn’t believe me, but now I am very happy with the equipment that has been installed to measure the water levels of the river. The residents have seen the investment and I believe that they will heed the call to evacuate seriously when they hear the siren of impending floods.”
The villagers maintain and operate the equipment. “Our role is to take care of this equipment which has been put for us. We have to make sure that they are safe and well-maintained, and every information that is being given to the community is being given at the right time,” said Jan Mulwazi, resident of Kasaya village.
“After the installation, members of the disaster management committee and the satellite disaster management committee, who were living in that area, Kasaya, were trained on how the system functions…the system was actually very user friendly,” says Given Sicheeba, District Agricultural Coordinator of Mwandi District.
ITU has been sending satellite phones for years to Zambia to help workers coordinate flood-relief efforts, but now this project allows local people who are affected by the floods to take preventive action. “This is a good project that tries to give a human face … to the assistance that we get from ITU,” says Elliot Kabalo, Acting Director of ZICTA’s Technology and Engineering Department.
ITU plays an important role in using ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management, through the design of national emergency telecommunication plans, setting up early warning and monitoring systems and providing emergency telecommunications equipment when disasters strike.
“Early Warning and Alerting Systems are critical components of emergency telecommunications to reduce the vulnerability of communities at risk and save lives,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau when the project was launched. “This project reinforces ITU’s commitment to exploring innovative and collaborative ways to harness the full potential of ICTs for both development and disaster management with a view to attaining sustainable development.”