Van Walt Environmental Connect Issue Two

vanwalt CONNECT in Somalia

limited amount of space allocated to this article and I would rather dwell on the human side of the episode. But, suffice to say that whereas the biggest telecom provider was just across the road from our compound we were unable to lift the GSM/GPRS block on our device activated by the non-state armed group. From a technical perspective we resorted to a plan B which is almost enabled now.

the South & Central Office who is a young man with a wife and daughter whom he has to communicate daily through Skype because of his shift patterns. The compound in which he lives is well provided with internet, gym and a very good cook but it is a prison. Safety issues preclude a venture into town and he only leaves the confines of the fortress to go to the Mosque, 50 metres from the front gates, once a week. Similarly his female colleague with five children who have never played outside their house and the situation has been the same for the last 25 years, so she has never known anything different. And for my guide and travel partner Steve Mutiso this story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention that 15 times per year, he leaves his family in Nairobi behind to carry out his work in Somalia. While there, every day brings a real risk and he accepts this with humility that he’s doing a great job with real and tangible results for the people of Somalia. Behind him and Ahmed there is a big support system of the others at Save the Children who make all this possible. I am very grateful for having been given this opportunity of contributing in a little way to their efforts. Off topic Interlude: During one of the nights in Nairobi I woke up and in a semi somnambulant state I wrote my daily report for my colleagues. The report started with this paragraph:

The Shebelle River runs from the highlands of Ethiopia southeast through Somalia, past Mogadishu and from there joins the Jubba River which eventually flows out in the Indian Ocean. Some 350 kms north of Mogadishu the Shebelle divides the settlement of Beledweyne with a population of some 70,000 people.

The headquarters for Save the Children, Somalia/ Somaliland are in Nairobi and there is also a permanent presence in Mogadishu. And so Lewis and I found ourselves in Nairobi with two vanwalt CONNECT systems, ready to be deployed on the upstream reaches of the Shebelle. We had the opportunity to meet Steve Mutiso, Save the Children’s Head of Food Security and Livelihood, responsible for the implementation of flood risk warning and our host and guide. Working “al fresco” in the garden of Save the Children was a pleasurable and new experience. After some delays getting to grips with Somali and Nairobi airtime the units were reconfigured and fully functional and repacked for onward travel with Steve and I to Mogadishu. Somalia is not on an obvious tourist trail. To say that I now know the country would be somewhat of an overstatement, divided into eighteen regions with the longest coastline on the mainland of Africa of 3,025 kilometres (1,880 mi) and a total area of 637,657 square kilometres (246,201 sq miles) consisting mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands; a climate that is dictated by its close proximity to the equator so very little seasonal variations: hot conditions prevail year-round along with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall – information discovered but not what I initially found. What I do have though is an intimate knowledge of the airport from where, after some delays, we were whisked away, after donning a helmet and bullet-proof vest in an armoured 4X4 preceded and followed by a pickup truck with armed guards and deposited within a short while in a fortified compound which was to be our home for an intended couple of days. In fact it turned out to be four days because of security difficulties in being allowed to leave this haven of bliss. The purpose of my visit was to train local government officers and Save the Children staff in the deployment and use of the systems. The formal training session was a full day and the participation of those in attendance made my job extremely easy. But the situation in Somalia can be fluid and fickle and so it turned out. Deployment and logistics: Although there are roads in Somalia they are unsafe for travel except in large convoys with adequately armoured vehicles. This makes deployment of any instrument very challenging and another reason why automated flood warning systems make good sense. I could so easily bore my readers with a whole jumble of the technical issue but I have only a


Local operative installing the vanwalt CONNECT

River & bridge in Hiran town

Plan B: Because a non-state armed group blocked the GPRS, telemetry via the GSM network could not be activated. Landline based internet is still available so the modules have now been converted so that the sensors can be downloaded via Bluetooth to a tablet and from there the data is uploaded by FTP to our server to become viewable on the vanwalt CONNECT web interface. As soon as GPRS is re-enabled, it will pick up the signal and automatically upload in a more conventional way. Satellite: Telemetry based data acquisition modules rely on two main components; power which can be adequately provided for by solar array and signal. Where signal is non-existent, weak and temperamental or subject to block then satellite might be a way forward. Currently we are working with Iridium and plug-in hardware will soon be available to interface with our current units. The real heroes of the story are the caring, public- spirited and unselfish staff who work for Save the Children. For instance the Area Representative for


As so often is the case in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are times when there is too much water and other times it runs dry. During the two yearly rainy seasons (Gu & Deyr) there is a very real risk to the population from flooding and the Shebelle can rise up to 50cm per day. A week will bring the levels to where the water breaches the banks. It goes without saying that monitoring the water levels and warning the population is a first priority and Save the Children plays a significant role in this. 33


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