The public should be more aware of protection mechanisms against thunderstorms because Rwanda is prone to lightning during the rainy season, an official at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDIMAR) has said.
Alphonse Hishamunda, the acting Director of Risk Reduction and Preparedness Unit at the ministry, made the call on Monday in an interview with The New Times.
His remarks follow an incident in Southern Province's Nyaruguru District where 15 people were struck dead by lightning on Saturday while praying from a church that didn't have lightning rods.
Hishamunda said that many public buildings operate in violation of MIDIMAR's instructions against thunderstorms, adding that the ministry will move to increase awareness about the instructions.
"We need to focus on public awareness up to the gressroots level so that people can understand how to protect themselves from lightning," he said.
Among the regulations issued by MIDIMAR include the requirement for public buildings to install lightning rods and specific behaviours that people should adopt during thunderstorms.
"There are still many public buildings across the country which are not protected and law enforcement needs to be effective to ensure that buildings have lightning protection systems," he said.
As for individuals, the official said that there are behaviours they need to adopt during thunderstorms including finding shelter during rains, avoiding carrying metal objects during rainstorm, and avoiding moving in the rain including feeding their animals or moving them.
People are also discouraged from seeking shelter under isolated trees during the rain, riding bicycles and motorbikes, swimming, taking lifts in buildings while it is raining or finding shelter near masts and electric poles.
Hishamunda also said that those who take shelter indoors during rainstorms should avoid touching windows and doors because they are often metallic objects and can attract lightning strikes.
It is also advisable that all electronic equipment should be switched off during rains.
Statistics from MIDIMAR indicate that 49 people were killed by lightning strikes in Rwanda, from January last year up to last weekend when sixteen people were killed in Nyaruguru.
The strikes also injured another 187 people and killed 45 livestock.
Hishamunda said that while lightning strikes are more rampant in areas with high altitude like in south-western Rwanda, the entire country is vulnerable to lightning strikes given its location near the Equator, and all Rwandans need to take measures against lightning related accidents.
Addressing a news conference in Kigali yesterday, Foreign affairs minister and Government Spokesperson Louise Mushikiwabo expressed Government's condolences to families and friends of the weekend lightning victims. She said, "we recommend installation of lightning rods on all public buildings and other necessary safety measures."