Monday, March 31, 2014

THE LAKE ALBERT DISASTER WAS NO ACCIDENT



Last weekend a boat capsized on Lake Albert killing more than a hundred people in the process.
Reports had it that the dead were mostly Congolese refugees who had fled fighting in eastern Congo last year, returning home.

The boat they had hired for the journey had a maximum capacity of the 50 passengers but thrice that number had crammed themselves into the rickety vessel head for the western banks of the lake.

As if that was not enough the passengers were not wearing life jackets which would have greatly minimised the fatalities out of this accident.

While we were still grappling the horror of decomposing bodies washing ashore from the accident Hillary Onek the disaster preparedness minister was reporting to parliament that Uganda had had to bury 19 bodies rejected by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kinshasa refused to take possession of the bodies because it was taboo to bury the dead 72 hours after drowning.

"The lake, notorious for its sudden mood shifts has seen almost 500 people die from drowning since 1998. A consistent pattern has long been formed -- all these accidents are as a result of overloading of lake going crafts and none use of life jackets....

Even more disturbing is that these trips are not surreptitious endeavours, made under the cover of darkness, boat owners and passengers eager to keep it all hush-hush, but in fact the trips are embarked in broad daylight in full view of the authorities.

One would expect that lakeside communities would have a healthy respect for the lake and would be keen not to tempt fate by employing these clearly hazardous travelling methods. From afar we may deduce that a lack of infrastructure and abject poverty may have worked to supress these communities’ best instincts.

The Lake Albertine region is notoriously remote, with usable roads at a premium during the dry season and non-existent during the rainy sea with only constant means of accessing areas around the lake being by small makeshift boats.

Sadly we probably only hear of the accidents with huge death tolls, but it’s possible that hundreds more die but in numbers we seem willing to shrug off will casual indifference.

"One theory for why Africa lags behind the rest of the world in development is that there is an overabundance of resources all around. In the temperate lands where they have only one planting season in a year and the consequences of not having a good crop would lead to certain death during winter. These constraint meant they had to be better organised to manage the limitations partly explaining the development of reading, writing and mathematics. Every unit has value. In Africa not only are we wildly endowed with natural resources but also human life is an infinite resource replaceable with a quick grope and thrust in our darkened huts...

Could the abysmally low value we place on human life be explained thus?

Using the accidents on the lake as an example at a personal level there seems to be a total disregard for our own personal safety at a local and national leadership level this blasé attitude is scaled up to the point that we not only don’t provide the infrastructure – physical and soft to improve the welfare of our people, but even the little that is planned for these endeavours is stolen with such unbridled impunity as to be the rule rather than the exception.

The 108 people who died on the lake last weekend were 108 deaths too many.

An accident is defined variously as an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury or an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.

"This event was unfortunate but it did not happen unexpectedly or unintentionally or by chance and was not without deliberate cause. The disaster was intentional as if someone actually bored a hole in the boats floor and sent the passengers to a watery grave....

The question is what are we going to do about it, if anything?

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