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Uganda hopes to get funds for domestic flights infrastructure

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By JONATHAN KAMOGA
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As Uganda seeks to revive its national carrier, local air travel is also expected to ease when the country renovates airfields to increase capacity for domestic flights.

Officials told The EastAfrican that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) hopes to secure funds from the government, the African Development Bank and World Bank in May 2019, to start the upgrading of five airfields in different parts of the country.

This would address concerns among local aviation companies and tour operators, who have repeatedly voiced frustrations at the poor quality of air transport infrastructure citing it as one of the biggest hindrances to the progress of Uganda’s inland flights.

“We are looking at creating an enabling environment, which is largely in terms of infrastructure. When you create better airfields, you are facilitating local flights,” said Vianney Luggya, CAA public affairs manager.

Four years ago, CAA launched a 20-year masterplan from 2014 to 2033 that will see the expansion of Entebbe International Airport and the upgrading of several other airfields to promote local and international flights in the wake of swelling traveller numbers and the revival of the national carrier.

Uganda has more than 20 airfields, 12 of which are run by the CAA while the rest are privately owned. These, however, are in poor state with no equipment, bad murram runways, while some have been abandoned.

Uganda barely compares with its East African peers Kenya and Tanzania, which have over time developed a robust inland aviation infrastructure.

While Uganda has scheduled local flights, these are few in number, expensive and serve only a limited destination.

Three of the airfields — Arua in the West Nile region, Kasese in the west and Gulu in the north — will be upgraded to international level while the rest will be renovated.

“We have acquired land in Kasese and Arua, and engineering designs and masterplans for those planned for international upgrade are in place,” Mr Luggya said.

It is estimated that Kasese airfield, which is critical for tourism in western Uganda, will cost $176 million while that in Gulu — the northern Uganda business hub — will cost $200 million.

Local aviation companies have often complained about the poor state of the infrastructure of airstrips as the main reason hindering opening up of new routes, as well as imposing high maintenance and operation costs.

The government is also expanding the Entebbe airport and constructing a new one at Kabaale in the oil-rich Hoima district.

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With these developments, aviation sector players say that it needs to develop systems that will enable local flights feed off the national carrier, reduce transport time, support the oil industry and promote tourism.

Sceptics, however, argue that with the country’s majority poor barely able to afford air transport, the aviation industry is still unattractive to investors.

“People have invested in buses because our economy is at the bus level: most people travel by bus,” said Capt Francis Babu, a retired pilot.

Local flights in Uganda remain a preserve of the privileged few as a trip from Entebbe to Arua costs $150, and only $8 by bus.

The issue of affordability was echoed by another retired pilot and aviation expert, Capt Mike Mukula, who believes that besides upgrading the airfields, increasing household incomes is critical.

“We also need to make sure that people do not spend a lot of time on the road. Time is money. People have not yet realised that it is cheaper to travel by air than road. It will be cheaper to fly to Arua for one hour than using the road for eight hours,” Capt Mukula said.

According to Joan Kagoro, head of sales and marketing at Eagle Air, one of Uganda’s oldest aviation companies, competition within the country is dominated by five local operators. But these operators must contend with exorbitant taxes, high costs of maintenance and the poor state of airport infrastructure.

Industry experts cite slow traffic between Entebbe International Airport and the capital as an issue that could be solved by having active airstrips in Kampala that act as drop-off points.

Unlike Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, Uganda’s international airport is quite far from the central business district, at 42km.

“We need public-private partnerships to work on these airstrips. The one at Naguru would have been ideal but the land was taken over by police.

Kololo has been turned into a venue for national celebrations. So we lost these two locations in the city centre that would have been ideal for light aviation,” Capt Mukula said.

Ms Kagoro explained that the high prices for local flights are a result of the low level of utilisation of scheduled flights.

To support tourism, government also plans to open up five upcountry aerodromes for international entries and exits in the top tourist attraction centres — mainly the national parks of Kidepo, Murchison Falls and others in Western Uganda.

Uganda Tourism Board deputy chief executive officer John Ssempebwa argues that development of infrastructure to support local flights will attract high-end tourists to Uganda.

“Clients who are very high end have no time to move by road from Kampala up to say Kidepo. When there are flights, they can even visit the whole of Uganda in three days,” said Mr Ssempebwa.

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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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