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Ferry disaster turns focus to Lake Victoria safety

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By The EastAfrican
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More than 130 people died and more than 100 others were missing on Friday, after a ferry travelling between Bugolora and Ukara Island in Lake Victoria near Mwanza sank on Thursday afternoon.

The ill-fated ferry, MV Nyerere, sank at around 2pm, two hours after leaving Bugolora.

Officials blamed the accident on overloading, with Ukerewe District Commissioner Cornel Magembe saying there could have been as many as 400 passengers on board the ferry, whose capacity is 100 passengers and 25 tonnes of cargo.

“There were about 400 passengers on board. Some jumped out and were rescued by local canoe operators,” said Mr Magembe.

Survivors said there had been a truck loaded with maize and cement on board.

It was hard for officials to establish the exact number of passengers aboard the vessel, as the official who was issuing tickets is also missing, and the machine he was using could not be traced by press time.

Inspector-General of Police Simon Sirro, who visited the scene on Friday, said more than 130 people had been confirmed dead.

The death toll was expected to rise as recovery operations continued. Rescuers suspended operations after dark on Thursday, by which time some 44 bodies had been recovered. The rest were recovered on Friday by divers from the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces assisted by Red Cross and the police.

The Tanzania Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency (Temesa), which runs the ferry services, said the cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but it did not rule out overloading.

Temesa spokesperson Theresia Mwami said the vessel had recently been refurbished, getting two new engines.

Official records show that MV Nyerere was purchased in 2004 for Tsh191 million ($86,800). After a series of mechanical breakdowns and complaints from the public, the two new engines were installed.

President John Magufuli sent a message of condolences to the families of the victims and ordered the arrest of those responsible for the sinking.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa on Friday called off his tour in Chemba district in Dodoma Region to fly to Mwanza to assess the situation.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga sent condolence messages to the Tanzanians.

“On behalf of the people of Kenya, I express our most sincere condolences to my brother President John Magufuli and our dear neighbour. No words can adequately express our grief following this tragic accident. My heart goes out to those who have lost their lives and their families,” President Kenyatta said in a statement.

“We, as your neighbour, are deeply heartbroken by what happened. Allow me to express our solidarity and support for our brothers and sisters in Tanzania… and to assure them that we will lend every needed support.”

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Mr Odinga said on Twitter: “I mourn with the people of Tanzania at this very difficult moment. May God grant peace and strength to the families, the care givers and the Tanzanian nation.”

The tragedy brought into focus the issue of safety in Lake Victoria, which claims thousands of lives annually.

Navigating the lake has become a matter of trial and error, maritime experts say, with ancient navigation routes dating back to the 19th century, missing course lights and clogged piers. The lack of equipped weather stations also makes it difficult to predict weather patterns in order to take precautions.

The sinking of MV Nyerere could likely be the second most disastrous marine accident in the lake, after the May 1996 MV Bukoba tragedy that claimed more than 800 lives after it sank just 30 minutes before reaching Mwanza port. Only 53 people survived.

A team, headed by High Court Judge Robert Kisanga investigating the cause of the accident later blamed the tragedy on overloading, and a faulty engine. It took divers, some of them from South Africa and Kenya, to recover the bodies.

The captain of the ship, Jumanne Rume Mwiru, and eight senior officials of the Tanzania Railways Corporation’s Marine Department were charged in with the murder of 615 people.

Lake Victoria Basin Commission

Thursday’s tragedy has also shone the spotlight on the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, which earlier this year announced it had secured $35.8 million from donors to improve safety on the lake, under a project dubbed Multinational Lake Victoria Maritime Communications and Transport. The project is to be implemented by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania over four years.

A 2012 report by the LVBC showed that accidents in the lake were mostly caused by unstable boats, bad weather, overloading, lack of safety equipment and poor seamanship. The stubborn weed, the water hyacinth, which has choked important waterways and landings, is the latest cause of accidents.

Amos Ndoto, an LVBC maritime safety officer, said the project is important since the lake had become dangerous, claiming thousands of lives each year. He said the regional maritime rescue communication centres in Mwanza, Kisumu and Entebbe would be facilitated to respond to distress calls and locate accident victims and survivors.

The centres would get rescue boats fully furnished with medical facilities to give first aid. There would also be emergency search and rescue stations around the lake, equipped with fast rescue boats and trained crews.

The commission this year distributed navigational aids to the ports of Kisumu in Kenya, Port Bell in Uganda and Mwanza. A total of 86 navigation aids were installed, with Kenya receiving 18 while Tanzania and Uganda which own a larger percentage of lake surface receiving 46 and 22 respectively.

LVBC maritime safety officer Gerson Fumbuka said the navigation aids would guide captains on the right track, just like roads are marked for cars.

“The significance of navigation aids is that they help the ship captains to determine where they are and to enable them to cross each other without colliding, even in the rain,” said Mr Fumbuka.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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