Rwanda: Smartphones to the Rescue in Disaster Management

Digital Content

Rwanda's Ministry of Disaster and Refugee Management (Midimar) last week launched an ambitious campaign of distributing internet-equipped cell phones to all sector leaders with the aim to enhance communication on disasters.

A total of 832 handsets, 32 smart phones and 32 laptops have already been purchased for distribution. "The cost of the entire project amounts to US$ 164,000," said Darla Rudakubana, the ministry's communications specialist.

She added that the program to distribute phones at sector level and smart phones at district level will help ensure fast reporting and response from the authorities. The move comes in the wake of massive floods that devastated three districts including Ruhango and Musanze leaving at least five people dead.

It was a major incident which got seven Ministers who constitute the government's Disaster Management Steering Committee led by Premier Damien Habumuremye to rush to the affected districts to inspect the level of damage. The Ministers who included James Kabarebe (Defense), Marcel Gatsinzi (Disaster Preparedness and Refugees affairs), Stanislas Kamanzi of Natural Resources, Agnes Binagwaho (Health), Musa Fazil Harerimana of Internal Security and Dr Alvera Mukabaramba (State Minister for Social Affairs) were presented reports indicating that 265 houses had been annihilated, 504 others damaged while 876 hectares of crops and plantations were destroyed.

The leaders were told that the flood had been caused after water from Karisimbi Mountain changed course and flooded the water channels causing an over-flow.

According to Midimar, with support from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Agency for Refugees (UNCHR) the Ministry is looking to develop a system where data are received via text messages or voice calls from designated individuals at all levels in the country. "This will later serve as an early-warning system that will give information on past disaster occurrences, impacts, high-risk zones and predictions on future occurrences," reads a press release.

In addition, the recipients of the equipment will also receive training in how to act, with the aid of the phones, in case of disasters.

Good communication and information are indeed vital when it comes to reacting to disasters, which seems to be increasing, especially those related to erratic weather. For instance, according to Midimar in the past two months, unpredictably heavy rains have claimed 17 people and caused fatal landslides, damaged roads and washed-away fields. Districts hit hardest are Musanze, Nyabihu, Rubavu, Rulindo, Ngororero, Muhanga, Nyamagabe and Karongi. Nyagatare, Bugesera and Kayonza have also not been spared.

Yet according to the national weather station based in Kigali, some of the areas that were devastated by the floods are actually known to be vulnerable and weather reports just before the destructive floods had predicted them, according to an official with the Metrological Centre, and had been broadcast through the media.

The new equipment, one might hope, will ensure better communication of such vital information.