REPORT 2016-07-31

We start our bulletin this week again with weather news. The cut-off low pressure cell stationary over the centre of the country for most of the week resulted in dramatic weather. Last weekend’s severe weather warning told us to expect heavy rain in the centre of the country, spreading westwards, and they weren’t wrong. Large areas of KwaZulu Natal were hit by downpours in the region of 250mm of rain within 24 hours, starting on Monday evening.

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD posted pictures of flooding in Amanzimtoti, and a bakkie stranded up to its windowsills in water in a street there. Other pictures of Amanzimtoti showed the railway station totally submersed, and low-lying gardens in the South Coast areas were knee-high in water. All the local streams and rivulets were turned into raging torrents as the water sought escape routes.

And as predicted the rain spread Westwards, and the Eastern and Western Cape were lashed by heavy rain on Tuesday. Slopes of Table Mountain and Devils Peak received around 140mm of rain in 12 hours, and low-lying informal dwelling areas suffered severe flooding of their houses.

The mountains of the central Eastern Cape, Southern Free State and Lesotho continued to receive snow, and passengers on flights between KZN and the Western Cape were treated to the sight of a carpet of white covering the mountains on their routes.

Meanwhile, a tornado hit Tembisa on Tuesday afternoon, injuring 20 people. Some heavy transport vehicles were overturned by the wind, and part of the roof of Phumulani Mall was ripped off during the storm, while a local garage’s mini-supermarket was totally wrecked by the wind, and ambulances at the Tembisa hospital were damaged by fallen trees. Houses in Ekhuruleni were also severely damaged, and the community continues to count the cost.

All in all, a violent week, and the only comforting feature is the fact that dams are starting to fill in drought-stricken areas.

An article on victims of climate in Inter Press Service News Agency notes that climate change and related extreme weather events have devastated the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of most vulnerable people worldwide – by far exceeding the total of all the unfortunate and unjustifiable victims of all terrorist attacks combined. However, the unstoppable climate crises receive just a tiny fraction of mainstream media attention. “Every second, one person is displaced by disaster,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugees Council reports. “In 2015 only, more than 19.2 million people fled disasters in 113 countries. Disasters displace three to ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.”

As climate change continues, it will likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards and the impact will be heavy, warns this independent humanitarian organisation providing aid and assistance to people forced to flee. “On average, 26 million people are displaced by disasters such as floods and storms every year. That’s one person forced to flee every second of every day.”

“Climate change is our generation’s greatest challenge,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which counts with over 5,000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries. The climate refugees and migrants add to the on-going humanitarian emergency. “Not since World War II have more people needed our help,” warned Jan Egeland, who held the post of UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief from 2003-2006. Food for thought indeed.

I remarked in a previous bulletin on work being done to provide VHF and UHF radios with digital voice capabilities satisfying protocols for all the different systems in the same radio. As NW Digital’s John Hays K7VE has said in talks at several ham gatherings, the protocols are “95% the same, and 100% incompatible.” They all rely on the same AMBE vocoder to encode and decode the digital voice, but they all package it differently.

In the ideal universe, it would be great to have one radio capable of running all the digital voice modes, along with analogue FM. That radio will hopefully soon exist.

An SDR radio, called Katena, is being developed by Bruce K6BP and Chris KD2BMH, to have as many digital modes as possible, but especially a version of FreeDV for VHF/UHF, using the open source CODEC2 vocoder and also the AMBE chip to do the other modes. In its third iteration, it is still encountering difficulties, so progress is slow.

Meanwhile, Wireless Holdings has announced the DV4mobile, which is a 20 watt mobile, on 144, 222 and 440 Mhz, with FM, C4FM, D-Star, DMRplus, dPMR, P25 and possibly NXDN. It will also include an LTE radio for connection to the cell network, and the software to let you keep using the digital modes through their networks the same way you use the various dongles now. However, the company is keeping their product under lids at present, so more detail is not yet available.

FreeDV is receiving attention from other developers as well, and will be a game-changer if it is successful. It is a bit narrower in bandwidth than D-Star, and uses TDMA as does DMR, technology which is already well developed.

A radio like this in the hands of a HAMNET rescuer would give him or her a huge advantage when it comes to providing communications on all systems needed.

I’ll mention the report by Dave ZS2DH, on the VW Rally held over the weekend of 15th and 16th July in the Eastern Cape in next week’s bulletin.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.