By Mary Ann Cooper and Richard Tushemereirwe
The African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics (ACLE) is a pan-African network dedicated to decreasing deaths, injuries and property damage due to lightning.
Global lightning occurrence maps based on satellite data show that many parts of the African continent have the highest lightning strike densities in the world. The first major lightning accident reported in Africa, in 1998, was an incident where 11 players of a single football teamwere killed by lightning in the Eastern Province of Kasai in DemocraticRepublic of Congo. Witchcraft was suspected. The actual details of the incident were never investigated as the region of incident was inaccessible due to civil unrest in the current Congo.
There are other recent reminders that lightning continues to pose a threat to people in Africa: One tragic example involved the deaths of 18 school children from a single strike in 2011 with at least 38 others hospitalized. (See p00 for more examples on the Cost of Bad Weather).
ACLE was formed to address these challenges. The scope of work is divided into four major categories to address the different facets of lightning: detection, protection, response, research and education. The organization has initiated activities in each of these categories and plans more.
· Organization - ACLE National Centres are found across Africa. The National Centres address local needs to align with overall goals under the direction of the network organization headquartered at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) in Kampala, Uganda. The first national centre, ACLE-Zambia, is hosted at Zambia Air Services Training Institute (ZASTI) and was officially launched at ACLE’s Second Symposium in Lusaka, Zambia, in August 2015. Two other national centres are being planned in Benin and Malawi.
· Response – The national centres work with national meteorological offices and other agencies to provide Severe Weather Early Warning Systems (SWEWS) for those most at risk, relying on lightning detection data as a proxy for other severe weather. In collaboration with four other organizations (Earth Networks, Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory, Human Network International and Climate Change Adaptation Innovation), ACLE was selected to move into the second stage of funding for the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) Challenge to create an SWEWS for vulnerable communities in Uganda on a sustainable basis.
· Detection – ACLE facilitates and enables technology transfer by working with international lightning detection companies and national governments to bring new technologies to Africa. ACLE facilitated Earth Networks deployment of lightning sensors in all East African Community states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda surrounding Lake Victoria where an estimated 5,000 people die each year due to erratic weather.
· Research and Education – The organization works to understand aspects of culture that will help change local customs and behaviors to mitigate the effects of lightning. In February 2015, the organization won a grant from Resilience African Network (RAN), a program funded by USAID, to survey fishing communities on Lake Victoria, where prior SWEWS have failed.
· Protection – ACLE strives to decrease deaths by protecting schools. More than half of lightning injuries and deaths reported by the media occur to children in school. The ‘Lightning Kills – Save a Life in Africa’ project was initiated in October 2014 to focus on the design and installation of Lightning Protection Systems (LPS) to the most vulnerable schools across Africa. Engaging with schools, building a sense of awareness, safety and control are the first steps to reducing damage from lightning. This efforts will spread from students to their families and gradually decrease deaths and injuries.
Mary Ann Cooper, MD, Professor Emerita of Emergency Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, is the recognized international authority on lightning injuries and injury prevention.
Richard Tushemereirwe is the Senior Presidential Advisor on Science and Technology, Disaster and Climate Resilience research fellow at Makerere University School of Public Health, and the Relationships Advisor for ACLE. Learn more at www.ACLENet.org.