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[MUTARE- ZIMBABWE] Zimbabwean engineers have developed a disaster alert radio technology that could enable rural dwellers in flood-prone areas across the country to quickly get information on impending hazards.

The early warning radio technology intermittently interrupts signals on radio stations whenever there is crucial information on weather patterns.

Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department (MSD), which falls under the Ministry of Water and Climate, developed the technology in partnership with others such as the country’s Department of Civil Protection and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

“This technology is vital and must be adopted in all developing countries which experience floods every year.”

Pesanayi Gwirayi, Great Zimbabwe University

Dennis Kapaso, MSD system engineer, tells SciDev.Net that the technology was developed to enable timely dissemination of weather-related information to people who reside in flood-prone areas to help save lives during disasters.

According to the Zimbabwean government, floods that occurred from October 2016 to March this year killed about 250 people and left nearly 2,000 people homeless.

”The existing technologies are useful but they lack effectiveness due to limited coverage, high operational costs, complexities and nonexistence of identifiable authorities. The [new] technology has low costs to the user but alerts can be effectively disseminated using already existing telecommunications infrastructure,” he explains.

The technology took almost two years to be developed through China’s Meteorological Aid Project for African countries at a total cost of 10 million Chinese yuan (about US$1.5 million), says Kapasdo.  

“The technology is an all-digital active warning radio based on existing wireless broadcasting infrastructure. These warnings will be played through the national broadcasters –the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which owns five radio stations (Radio Zimbabwe, National FM, Sport FM, Star FM and Diamond FM) and AB Communications which owns ZiFM.”

Kapaso says that the MSD has done all the test runs with Radio Zimbabwe.  “We are engaging National FM, ZiFM, Sport FM, Star FM and Diamond FM to enable us to reach millions of people in the country,” Kapaso adds.

Albert Chekayi, Radio Zimbabwe station manager, tells SciDev.Net, “Our national radio station has more than 10 million listeners in the country and we are ready to roll out this ambitious project meant to inform our people in risk-related areas.”

According to Kapaso, the meteorological equipment for facilitating the project was installed in 2016 and will be commissioned next month.

“A total of 1,600 special radios have been acquired, and deployment of these radios will be done at provincial, district and ward levels in all-weather disaster-prone areas in Zimbabwe,” says Kapaso. “We are targeting our local leadership and relevant authorities involved in disaster-risk reduction programmes as recipients.” Pesanayi Gwirayi, director of research and postgraduate studies at the Great Zimbabwe University, applauds the technology and urges governments in Africa to invest more money in research.

“Research enables discovery of more technologies that should help millions of Africans who are not only subjected to floods but to other serious disasters facing humanity. This technology is vital and must be adopted in all developing countries which experience floods every year,” Gwirayi says. 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.