Objectives: Ultimately, our goal is to save lives of fishermen and others who use Lake Victoria for their living by delivering timely and effective Severe Weather Early Warnings (SWEW) via smart phones to those at risk. Before this can become a reality, it is essential to find out why previous systems have not been successful.
Methods: Surveys were conducted between April and May 2015 in the form of questionnaires administered to fishermen and others who work around the Lake in order to gather individual and community views. We inquired about the ideas for better design and implementation of SWEW and use of smartphones, as well as the ability and willingness to pay for such a service. Respondents were randomly sampled from those who had participated in the earlier pilot of Mobile Weather Alerts supported by World Meteorological Organization. The questionnaire was digitized using Open Data Kit (ODK) software for convenience and timeliness. In addition to the quantitative survey, Key Informant Interviews (KII) and Focused Group Discussions (FGD) were conducted by trained personnel. Results were reported to a central server and summarized by trained personnel.
Results: One hundred seventeen respondents from 14 landing sites (communities) spread on the Islands of Bubeke, Bukasa and Lulamba were interviewed. The major route of death on Lake Victoria is drowning: 97% of respondents could recall more than two different cases of drowning involving more than three people each in the last one year. When asked specifically what caused drowning, 87% cited high winds and 30% cited poorly maintained boats.
There have been several attempts to deliver severe weather alerts to fishermen in the past, the last one being the Mobile Weather Alerts. Eighty two percent of the respondents reported that they use mobile phones as the main tool of communication but only 15% have smartphones that can receive Early Warning Alerts through internet connectivity. Concerning their desire for commercial weather alerts, 75% of respondents welcomed it, while 65% were willing to pay for such a service
Conclusions: In the past, Early Warning Systems failed for lack of a sustainability model. An Early Warning System is feasible in this community, but must be accompanied with public education. The design and use of the system will require technical capacity as well as change in behavior. Equally important to this Early Warning System is building a sustainable business plan to drive and maintain it.