SAN FRANCISCO, California — Lake Kivu is a major lake located in Africa’s center between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The people of Idjwi Island also call Lake Kivu home as it is the body of water that surrounds their land. The lake is a major source of water for countries nearby and is exceptionally valuable for attaining natural resources. However, due to the lake’s geological characteristics, the body of water has experienced a buildup of methane over the years, creating a risk of possible explosion in the future. Improved mobile network coverage in Africa may aid in predicting and communicating imminent threats of natural disasters. Furthermore, Lake Kivu has the potential to function as an energy source that could support better network coverage in the region.
Cellphone Towers in Africa
In the face of such imminent danger, the communities living along Lake Kivu desperately need technology to aid them in predicting prospective natural disasters and communicating with surrounding areas. Thus, international and global efforts to promote the construction of cellphone towers are vital to the region.
As part of a collaborative report performed by the International Finance Corporation and Green Power for Mobile to assess mobile network availability in Africa, analysts noted, “Mobile networks in Africa have grown beyond the limited reach of other basic supporting infrastructure such as grid electricity and road transport.” Mobile network operators have committed to extending network coverage to reach roughly 70% of African populations across the continent. As seen in the data surveyed, mobile network coverage is expanding greatly and more individuals can utilize the communication networks established throughout the continent than ever before. However, a variety of obstructions stand in the way of more comprehensive mobile network coverage in Africa.
Impediments to African Mobile Network Expansion
Although African mobile network coverage has shown great potential and increased accessibility in recent years, many countries within Africa continue to suffer from a lack of electrical grid infrastructure. According to Green Power for Mobile’s research, more than half of the people in Africa do not have access to a dependable electrical grid, leaving 600 million Africans without electricity. Factors such as deficits in government budgeting for development projects and the remoteness of certain geographical areas within sub-Saharan Africa all account for inadequate electrical coverage on the continent.
Beyond these deterrents, the cost of cellphone towers is another barrier toward attaining increased mobile network coverage in Africa. A cellphone tower’s cost tends to average around $175,000, an enormous expense for rural villages to bear. Fortunately, there are groups of engineers and technicians devoted to reducing the cost of cellphone tower construction. Using simple methods such as investing in sustainable and more efficient materials as well as implementing technology that focuses satellite waves to maximum capacity are helpful solutions to make the most of cellphone towers in less covered areas.
A Sustainable Solution
Another positive aspect of introducing more environmentally friendly practices into mobile network construction is reducing carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases. A majority of energy costs from pre-established African mobile networks come from diesel consumption. Most contractors in charge of building cellphone towers in the region rely on traditional construction methods and utilize the technique that will accomplish the job more quickly.
The placement of mobile network systems in faulty electrical grids further increases operational expenditures and complicates mobile network coverage. Therefore, it is extremely tactful for contractors to rely on methods that depend on more sustainable forms of power and are partially self-generating. In the Lake Kivu region, it is particularly crucial that construction managers and engineers do as much as they can to cut down carbon dioxide emissions as the natural carbon dioxide emissions coming from Lake Kivu are already volatile enough.
The People of Lake Kivu
The amplification of mobile network coverage in Africa is a development that would undoubtedly benefit the entire continent. Still, residents of Idjwi Island and the areas surrounding Lake Kivu are truly in dire need of an improved communication system and infrastructure. Idjwi Island hosts an acutely vulnerable segment of the population, with a population of a quarter-million people, mainly comprising of displaced escapees from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the violent uprising in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013.
A Chance for the Region
Despite the potential threat that Lake Kivu poses, multiple experts believe that the natural phenomenon at play is a blessing in disguise. According to an article published in The New Humanitarian, members of the scientific community have been encouraging the people of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to tap into this natural source of energy. Both methane and carbon dioxide are exceedingly useful compounds in energy production for petroleum and other fuels. Furthermore, in 2003, researchers at the New Scientist stated that the amount of gas in Lake Kivu would likely be enough to provide 400 years worth of energy for Rwanda.
With this in mind, the value of an investment in sustainable energy in Lake Kivu is undeniable. Harnessing natural energy sources such as methane and carbon dioxide would help account for the severe lack of electricity in the region while simultaneously deescalating the impending crisis from the lake’s overflow of gases. Experts agree that degassing the lake is the most effective solution to prevent a devastating explosion in the future. In creating a new system that relies on sustainable energy, the residents of Idjwi Island and other territories could place themselves a step closer to establishing much-needed mobile network coverage in Africa and supporting the technological development of their countries, one cellphone tower at a time.
– Luna Khalil