Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Lethal weather on 'world's most dangerous lake'

From Errol Barnett, CNN
updated 9:48 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
Lake Victoria is Africa's largest freshwater body. It is shared by three countries -- Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Lake Victoria is Africa's largest freshwater body. It is shared by three countries -- Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
HIDE CAPTION
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands of people die each year on Lake Victoria due to bad weather conditions
  • Authorities are testing a mobile alert weather service to protect fishermen
  • Locals receive text messages with weather forecasts and warnings about potential hazards
  • Lake Victoria is the world's second-biggest freshwater body

Lake Victoria, Uganda (CNN) -- Straddling three East African countries -- Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya -- Lake Victoria has for centuries been a vital resource for the millions of people living along its vast coastline.

The massive lake, which stretches some 70,000 square kilometers, is the world's second-biggest freshwater body and the biggest of its kind in Africa, as well as the chief reservoir of the Nile. Home to a stunning archipelago of more than 80 islands, Lake Victoria provides a livelihood for the fishermen navigating its waters and the businesses dotting its shores.

But for many that comes with a risk.

Click to expand map  Click to expand map
Click to expand mapClick to expand map

According to local officials, about 5,000 people are killed every year on the lake, victims of erratic weather conditions and a mix of poor communications and lack of resources.

The high death toll makes the lake "arguably the most dangerous stretch of water in the world in terms of fatalities per square kilometer," according to The National Lake Rescue Institute, a group launched in 2002 to improve safety on Lake Victoria and provide education and training in maritime safety.

See also: 'Hippie apes' battle for survival

Discovering 'untouched' islands
Lake Victoria: Dangerous for fishermen?
Surviving a Ugandan traffic jam

"It's very dangerous," says Sam Kabonge, a fisherman from the Bugala island in Lake Victoria, a tropical patch of land boasting sandy shores and lush forests. "You sit on top of water not knowing the depth of the pitch you are sitting on so in any case of accident ... even if you do [know how to swim], you might be far away in the lake."

Kabonge says not all fishermen can afford life jackets. At the same time, their small and often dilapidated vessels can easily succumb to the wind-whipped waves formed in the lake by its volatile microclimate.

"There are times when you may leave the landing site when the lake is still," explains Kabonge. "As you are in the middle of it, it starts getting rough -- rain, winds, clouds, and you know what happens next because ... our boats, cannot resist the strength of the wave. Sometimes they break; others capsize."

See also: School boy's website helps tourists spot big beasts

Ugandan meteorologist Khalid Muwembe says the lake, which lies on the Equator, has a distinct effect on the region's weather.

"Because the lake is generally warm and has a lot of moisture, we find that it generates this very big, what we call, convective potential energy, which generates a lot of cloudness and this unique nature of weather characterized by heavy thunderstorms which sometimes can be dangerous," he explains.

Muwembe is part of a team testing a new mobile alert system aiming to improve the delivery of weather forecasts and help vulnerable fishing communities in Lake Victoria protect themselves from dangerous conditions.

Under the free pilot program, locals receive tailor-made text messages on their mobile phones, providing them with daily weather forecasts, warnings about potential hazards and advice on what action they should take.

We need it because ever since it came, the death tolls have reduced.
Sam Kabonge, fisherman

See also: Wildlife puts Tanzania on the tourist map

Muwembe says the mobile alert weather system is helping fishermen to plan safer outings.

"For a long period of time, we didn't have a very good weather service to try and guide and promote safety of all those navigating over the lake," he says. "So because of that -- and also daily reports of accidents over the lake -- we thought it was very important that we have a weather system where we are giving the users of the small vessels over the lake at least some guidance on what kind of storms they expect to find over the lake."

"We provide this information on a daily basis as texts on their mobile phones and in a situation where we see that there is a very dangerous storm which is developing, we also give them an additional message, which we call an alert. We say that 'this is happening, please take action, or hold position,' or whatever it is that will at least promote safety," he adds.

For fishermen like Kabonge, who is among those involved in the pilot program, the localized weather information is a vital service that can help people in the community stay safe.

"We need it because ever since it came, at least the death tolls have reduced," says Kabonge, who calls for the program's expansion. "The lake is too wide -- if it [the program] could go across the whole lake, our brothers also may get use of it."

And for Kabonge that is what is most important -- to use new technology to help protect the lives of Lake Victoria's fishermen.

See also: Flower power threatens Kenya's Lake Victoria

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
CNN's Zain Verjee took on Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in a bid to see its mountain gorillas.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:59 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
"The Samaritans" is a new Kenyan comedy that takes a mocking look at the world of inept African aid organizations.
updated 5:29 AM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
A Moroccan food blogger presents her interactive guide to the country's tastiest dishes.
updated 6:59 AM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
updated 6:17 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
updated 6:39 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
A Cameroon supporter smiles during celebrations after Cameroon qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after winning the second leg qualifying football match between Cameroon and Tunisia on November 17, 2013 in Yaounde.
Known for its diverse geography and culture, Cameroon could be on the dawn of becoming known for tourism.
updated 6:16 AM EST, Tue January 21, 2014
The world's only "Flying Eye Hospital" is a DC-10 jet that flies around the world carrying out sight-saving operations.
updated 6:25 AM EST, Mon January 27, 2014
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, explodes spilling lava down the mountain sides and shooting ash into the sky October 30, 2002 near the town of Nicolosi, near Catania, Italy.
A Kenyan TV production set in the year 2063 imagines a world where European refugees are fleeing to Africa.
updated 5:11 AM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
Tour d'Afrique
The Tour d'Afrique is a four-month, 12,000 km cycle race across the length of Africa.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT