All posts by Alfa King

More on Grammar and Use of Words

Better be a fool for a while than to be a fool for ever. If in doubt check it out. Again, this is not another grammar lesson. It’s just sharing of another lesson learnt. What else is writing, if not about sharing your knowledge, your thoughts, and your feelings?

It can never be overemphasized. Every word counts in writing. It is the words you put on paper that are the building blocks of what you want to present to the reader. Correct use of words and grammar are the lifeblood of your writing. Together they constitute the vehicle of communication between you and your reader. If any of them is misplaced or inappropriately structured you can guess where your well researched piece might end up.

It is not uncommon that you will come across two words with similar connotations that may be easily mixed up; and mess up everything. Will you be able at the first go to make the difference between them? That’s where I want to come up with this post. Hats off if you’re an expert. Everybody isn’t. Be careful. It’s always good to check whether the vehicle is actually conveying what you wanted to.

In my last post I hinted at some words in common use that can spoil your writing if you don’t pay heed. Those are not the only ones. There’s a lot more; we can’t spot them all at a time. As we go along, others surface up; they’re important enough to stop and ponder upon.

Catching up with my reading of some familiar blogs, especially those that focus on writing and tips about writing, I picked up another set of such words – Dissatisfied, Unsatisfied from Daily Writing Tips. Can you see the difference? Not alien words, are they? Take a peek and see for yourself. I still remember in one of the courses I followed about the theories of motivation I was at a loss whenever I encountered these words. Each time I had to stop for a while to make sure I had the right message. Funny, isn’t it?

The use of verb moods is another area that deserves we stopped by. The mood you use will indicate how you are expressing your thoughts. You’ll find useful tips and explanations about the four moods – indicative, imperative, subjunctive and infinitive – at English Grammar 101: Verb Mood. It’s a simple, practical and straightforward guide for beginners and perhaps a refresher for those who are still experiencing difficulty at some stage or other.

So the next time you write remember that no words or verb moods can be taken for granted. If you have other examples of grammar and word use, do share it here.

Beware of the Spikes

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Pretty much often people get confused with simple words and end up with grammatical shortcomings in an otherwise good writing. Words that seem to convey the same meaning but not mean the same thing can spike all our writing. Have you come across such words? One word of caution though. Don’t take it personally. Any of us can get on the spikes if we are not careful about them.

Is it not common to use one word for another invariably without spotting the difference until somebody else pulls our ears? Let’s face it. This kind of mistake does often find its way in no less classy publications. Only the witty eyes will spot it.

I’m not a grammar specialist. I’m not a mentor. I won’t pretend to teach anybody. That’s not the aim of this post. I just want to share what I read from one of Nick Daws’ posts “Bad Grammar in a Holiday Brochure”. I thought his appreciation and advice about the use of words like “among”, “amongst”, “amid”, “amidst”, “between” are legitimate.

Nick has also been publishing quite a few books about writing and his latest gem is Essential English for Authors.

To your writing.

There’s Something in the Line

If you read my last post you might be asking yourself what the hell I have been doing. Of course work was my priority and I had to find time after office to bring my visitors around. Fortunately here we break off earlier as we start one hour earlier than in homeland. Although the sun sets 24 minutes earlier we have ample time to go around.

This island has a different panorama with its wide valleys and hilly features. I won’t go into the details as I wrote about it in a previous post. If you want to enjoy the sun and the sea the best place would be Cotton Bay or St François in the east. We didn’t as much as we would have wished. We couldn’t swim; it was too cold. With a series of anticyclones in the region the sensation of cold was intense. But that didn’t prevent us from trying our hand at fishing.

The youngsters bought fishing lines, hooks and baits (we used shrimps). We set off on three successive evenings at Point L’Herbe, a shore in between Port Mathurin (the capital) and Baie aux Huitres (Oyster Bay). Any guess who was the hero on the first occasion? I’m sure you made the good one – me of course (no boasting). I got the first and only catch with a small “vielle” as soon I threw the line. Everybody was excited. We baited one after the other. “Ni ene” (not even one more) until sunset.

vielle

A small “vielle”

On the second day the luck was with my niece. “Uncle,” she yelled couple of minutes after she threw her line. “Look, there’s something… Quick, I can’t hold it anymore.” I left my line and grabbed hers. “Yeah, it’s a big one… a carangue… probably 3 lbs.” Summa couldn’t believe her eyes. She took out her mobile and had some snapshots before messaging her mom and sister at home.

carangue

Carangue 

The excitement was so great; we tried again yesterday. But we didn’t have any more luck. We came back empty-handed, although we hooked three small eels which we released afterwards. My son’s face was dull; he’s yet to prove himself. Well, that’s part of the game.

We are not giving up yet. I just called a local friend for a fishing party on boat. The weather is OK and Carlo has agreed to take us on board tomorrow morning. We checked the tides and fixed the meeting at 7.00 am at a place called Caverne Provert further away from the English Bay on the eastern side of Port Mathurin.

Carlo is reliable, although somewhat lazy at times. He’s an experienced fisherman. He owns a boat propelled with oars. In May when the sea was smooth he took me off-lagoon one Saturday morning. He was there at 6.00am sharp. The weather was fine in the morning. Later around 10.00 am dark clouds built up and covered the whole sky. We could see the rain coming from the south and in no time we were soaked. The tides were low and we couldn’t make it to the shore in time. We had a good catch though; each of us, we were three, got about 5 kg of different variety.

Busy Month

 new sunset

May was lonesome; it reminded me of the Rodriguan Solitaire. No longer now. My stay is becoming more comfortable as I move towards the end. I can sense the tension relaxed despite the heavy work schedule. No more restless moments.

June has been exceptionally busy for me with work deadlines and visitors around. A colleague and his daughter visited me in the second week; my younger son also came with them. A couple of days later a technical team was here for a week for the maintenance of equipment. My mom and my niece arrived last week; they are staying until 5 July. I just arranged for an extension of their stay; they were initially scheduled to leave on Sunday 29.

But that’s not all. Other relatives will be here from the 7th until mid-July. My son is staying with me until my departure back to Mauritius in the first week of August pending the arrival of my wife around the end of July.

So I have every reason to rejoice and enjoy the last bit of my stay here. Bear with me if I’m somewhat irregular.

An Overall View of the PRB Report

You might by now be thinking this guy’s pocket’s full, now that the PRB report 2008 has been released and its recommendations are about to be implemented as from July. Alfa King has surely quit blogging. He’s busy counting the extra rupees and cents he’ll earn as from next month. Why should he bother writing on the net when he’s got a better package? Well, if that’s what’s in your mind, think again.

The couple of thousands of rupees more will not make the average public sector employee any richer. Blogging is a passionate hobby for me. It’s not always easy to keep to a fixed schedule, especially when you have a full time job. If I’ve been absent for a while it’s because I had a lot to do with official commitments and hosting visitors. I’ll talk a little more about these in my next post.

The PRB report 2008 has only granted a graduated increase in salary to all civil servants and employees of the para-tatal bodies. Except for chief executives and very senior government officials, who are a selected few and whose salary packages have been literally doubled in a gesture to prevent drain as they say, middle and lower income groups have had an increase based mostly on loss of purchasing power since the last report in 2003. With an average increase of 25 to 30% and taking into account this year’s CPI increase of no less than 8%, the increase in real terms is in dilute amount.

There’s no denial. Some conditions have been slightly improved – the increase in the number of cumulative sick leaves and vacation leaves, and the appreciation of certain allowances. But new conditions have been attached as well. The public sector employee will have to contribute for their pension; they’ll have to work up to 65; they’ll have to put up to 38 1/3 years of service in order to qualify for a full pension. However, those already in service as at June 2008 will continue enjoying the conditions hitherto governing their employment.

The grant of annual increase is no longer automatic. The report emphasises the need to relate pay with performance. All increments should be earned. All government departments are required to implement a performance appraisal system to be fully operational in 2010. Emphasis has been laid on staff development and training as an integral part in the performance management system and the report recommends between 40 to 60 hours of training per employee per year. This will enable a better allocation and management of human resources.

This is only a highlight of the major recommendations of the report which aims at “transforming public sector organisations into modern, professional and citizen-friendly entities with competent, committed and performance oriented personnel dedicated to the service of the citizen”. If most public sector employees display a satisfactory mood, there are many who believe that the salary revision exercise was a means to introduce new conditions. It was a give-and-take exercise. Much of the extra earnings will go back to the treasury in the form of taxes. Have you forgotten the NRPT? Well, check whether you fall into it now, if you weren’t previously.

Government has a different stance – it’s a very costly endeavour. The cost of implementation of the report will be twice that of the previous one. Initially scheduled to be implemented in two phases, 75% from July 2008 and the full amount in July 2009, the report will now be implemented in toto this year as “it’s the Prime Minister’s wish” as announced in the national budget speech by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on 6 June last. As if decisions are taken according to the mood of the Premier. But for the average people Government has the capacity to pay although it’ll have to disburse some Rs 4.5 billions.

Private sector employees are now claiming their share. If the national cake has become bigger they have contributed to it too and they should benefit from a similar increase in their salaries and wages, they say. Many people tend to forget that the Pay Research Bureau deals with review of salary and grading structures in the public sector only. Whereas the National Remuneration Board (NRB) caters for the private sector and reports periodically, as does the PRB, not necessarily within the same time frame.

As you can see the situation has become more competitive. A higher standard of commitment, responsibility and performance is expected of the public sector employee. He’s got to be more proactive and live up to the modern exigencies. Incremental credits have been recommended for top performers.

Let’s hope that the conditions are implemented in a just and equitable manner so that those who deserve to be rewarded are indeed recognised and that blue-eyed political pariahs do not find their way in.

New Conditions for Public Sector Employees in Mauritius

A quick post just to let you know, in case you are interested, that the long-awaited Report of the Pay Research Bureau on the review of pay and grading structures in the public service and parastatal bodies has been released today.

The two-volume report gives a detailed account of the existing structures and conditions and the improvement and innovation proposed to enhance public sector performance.

From a first glance I’ve noted the following innovations:
(i) increase in the number of days of sick leave that may be banked
(ii) a phased increase in the retirement age to bring it to 65
(iii) a contributory pension scheme of 6% of salary
(iv) performance-related pay and increment incentives

I have yet to go into deeper reading to find out more. You may access the report from here.

Solitary as the Solitaire

Time is running. Already three months and three weeks since I landed here in Rodrigues. Can you recall I wrote about this island of volcanic origin as a Hill in the Sea? My hitherto solitary status reminds me of the symbol of this island: The Solitaire or the Pezophaps solitaria.rodriguessolitaire.jpg

For many it might not mean anything. But for the people of Rodrigues it’s a symbol of their identity that’s present in the coat of arms of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly.

The Solitaire was described as a slightly plump flightless bird with a small head and strong wings, and weighing about 40 to 50 pounds. It was a descendant of the pigeon of Nicobar, South East Asia. It became extinct with the passage of man and wild cats in the hunt for food. It was dead for ever, as the Dodo of Mauritius.

The name Solitaire was coined by François Leguat, an orthodox protestant who stayed long in a solitary status on this isolated island between 1691 and 1693. In fact it’s through his memoirs that this bird’s existence was revealed when his book “A New Voyage to the East Indies” was published in 1708.

The real existence of the Solitaire was subject to controversy for quite some time. But the bones of this unique bird discovered in the south west of Rodrigues, namely in the limestone caves at Grande Caverne in 1866, speak for themselves. And it is from this discovery that a famous naturalist from Cambridge, Alfred Newton and his brother Edward presented a paper to the Royal Society, “On the Osteology of the Solitaire or Didine Birds of the Island of Rodrigues, Pezophaps solitarius”, giving a scientific description of the Solitaire.

rodriguessolitairebones.jpgBones of the Solitaire can be seen exposed at Grande Montagne Reserve Interpretation Centre and François Leguat Museum at the Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve at Anse Quitor not far from the Sir Gaetan Duval Airport.

It is said that the name Solitaire could have been inspired by the solitary nesting behaviour of the bird and the long solitary stay of François Leguat on the island.

As for me the solitude won’t be too long. My son will be joining me around mid-June and my wife around the end of July. It’ll then be time to pack up as I’ll have to be back to my homeland during the first week of August. But that’s some other two and half months away.

That’s life.

When the Clouds Crack – 13 Ways You Can Protect Yourself

This week started with an unstable weather here and in the region. We had a thunderstorm on Monday night which continued until the early hours of Tuesday. On Wednesday Mauritiuswitnessed a thundery weather; offices and schools were dismissed earlier. The electricity went off for some time.

 

On Thursday the weather was cloudy but no thunderstorm as forecast over Rodrigues. Still there was some panic. The school authorities were concerned about the safety pf school children.

 

The tragic consequences of the torrential rain episode of 26 March in Mauritius are still vivid in their minds.  And they know that regions like Riviere Cocos, Port Sud Est, Batatran in the east are particularly prone to flooding during heavy rainfall.

 

Precautions are even more important during thundery weather. Why? What special precautions are required? In order to answer these questions we need to understand the nature of a thunderstorm.

 

So let’s see what a thunderstorm is, how it is formed, how it strikes and how you can protect yourself.

 

Thunder clouds 

A thunderstorm is a storm with lightning and thunder, heavy rain, gusty winds and sometimes hail. It occurs when the atmosphere is unstable. The air is warm and humid. Coupled with active cold fronts and sea breezes it rises to form cumulonimbus clouds with high vertical extent. These clouds, which may reach up to 12 km high, become highly electrically charged and are sometimes referred to as thunder clouds.

 

Electric discharges 

The rising air causes the charges to separate; the positive charges concentrate at the top and the negative charges at the base of the clouds. When these charges come into contact, as they certainly will with instability, they produce electrical discharges and huge sparks or thunderbolts. Lightning is visible and seconds after you can hear a rumbling sound, thunder. You see the lightning first because light travels faster than sound. The air temperature at the discharge point may reach about 27 000 oC.

 

Lightning and Thunder 

Lightning is an electric current, a bright flash of electricity produced by a thunderstorm. It is very dangerous and is known to kill more people than tornadoes.

 

Thunder is caused by lightning which expands the air while finding a path to the ground. When the light is gone the air collapses back creating a sound wave we hear as thunder.

 

Thunder occurs in our region usually during the period December through April, about three times in a month and 17 days per year. On rare occasions, like this week, thunderstorm occurs in May also. The winter season doesn’t favour the formation of thunder clouds.

 

Can you assess the distance of a thunderstorm? 

Sometimes there’s only lightning, no thunder. Why? Well, the answer is simple. The thunderstorm is far from the point where you are, too far to be heard by the human ear. Usually beyond 10 km you cannot hear thunder.

 

But if you hear thunder and you want to calculate its approximate distance (in km) just divide by three the time (in sec) elapsed between the moment you see lightning and the moment you hear thunder. (To find distance in miles, divide time by 5).

 

And if you hear a deafening cracking sound almost momentarily after a lightning then it is most likely that the storm is overhead or very close to where you are. You need to be very vigilant.

 

Lightning targets 

Lightning takes the shortest path to the ground. Thus an object that is closer to the cumulonimbus cloud will be the prime target. Trees, mountain tops, high buildings, TV antennas, electric poles, masts, boats in the open sea and the highest point in a plain are all lightning targets. So the basic thing you can do is: stay away from these targets during a thunderstorm.

 

Protecting yourself 

A lightning strike actually kills and may cause damage to buildings and structures and may even trigger a fire. You’ll protect yourself if you follow simple rules as outlined hereunder:

 

  1. Be on the lookout for darkening skies, lightning and increasing winds. These are precursors of a thunderstorm. Pay heed to the weather forecasts. Don’t wait for the rain to begin.
  2. If you hear thunder, go to a safe place immediately
  3. If you are at sea, rush to the shore and find a shelter immediately
  4. If you are in an open area, crouch down; but don’t lay flat, minimize contact with the ground
  5. If you cannot find a shelter stay away from any tree, at least twice as far away from it as it is tall
  6.  If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under small trees
  7. If you are on a mountain, climb down immediately
  8. If you are in a vehicle, stay inside. Don’t touch any metallic parts
  9. Do not take shower, wash hands, dishes or do laundry. Stay out of water as it is a good conductor of electricity.
  10. Disconnect all electrical appliances at home or in the office
  11. Don’t use the corded telephone. Mobile phone is safer.
  12. Stay off porches and away from doors and windows
  13. Protect your house or building by installing a lightning conductor or rod. It is a device that provides an easier path for current to flow to the earth than through your house or building. It is made of a vertical metal strip or rod, usually of copper or similar conductive material placed on the roof top and connected to the ground. This system was invented by Benjamin Franklin.

You can assume that the thunderstorm has ceased or moved away if you don’t observe lightning or thunder for at least 30 minutes. You can now resume your routine.

 

Five Rituals for a Healthier You

We always hear about keeping fit, healthy and adopting a healthy lifestyle. What does that mean? You’ll often come across people saying: “Oh, I eat well, work well, sleep well, and I have no disease; I’m a healthy person.

 

Well, the fact is despite these assertions a person may still be leading an unhealthy life. Have you heard of this: “I just met Mr. X; we had a good time together; he was OK; I can’t believe he’s passed away? Aren’t you joking?

 

Yes, this is a common feature today. Many people suffer from health problems like high blood pressure, stress, cardiovascular disease and diabetes without knowing, until they find themselves in the doctor’s consultation room for an emergency.

 

Yet there are visible risk factors associated with these. Physical inactivity, bad eating, smoking and alcohol consumption habits, obesity, age, and family history are all factors that contribute to worsen your health, slowly but surely.

 

Oh, I mentioned “habits”; the topic of the post is about “rituals”. So let’s get things clear before going any further.

 

A habit is a passive, automatic and often unconscious behaviour, done in repetition although the outcomes may not be positive.

 

Whereas a ritual is something you do deliberately and consciously with a clear purpose in mind. It is more powerful than habit.

 

A habit may be good or bad. What you need to do is to adopt those habits that are good and turn them into rituals with a clear and specific objective in mind.

 

OK? Right, over now to the rituals to help you maintain a healthier lifestyle.

 

1. Eat healthy

  • Know what you eat, how and how much. Don’t eat with your eyes; they may mislead you over a sensible portion. Don’t eat in between meals. Be reasonable. Be moderate.
  • Eat more fruits, salads and veggies
  • Take low fat or fat free dairy foods
  • If you are non-vegetarian, go for lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Check your sodium intake: less of it, more of herbs and spices
  • Grains, nuts, seeds and dry beans are all right
  • Check your sugar consumption
  • Check if you have enough daily fluid intake. Six to eight glasses (about 1.2 litres) of fluid a day are recommended by the UK Food Standard Agency, based on fluid lost by the body; although a recent study by scientists at University of Pennsylvania rules out the actual beneficial toxin-flushing-ability of water. “There’s no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water,” they say. Anyhow, remember that you need to take adequate fluid to avoid dehydration.

2. Be physically active

  • Unfortunately, modern technology has rendered life more sedentary. People confine themselves to their car, office and home with little if at all any significant physical activity. You need not do vigorous physical activity, nor run or jog. Just simple activities can help maintain a good posture, lower blood pressure, burn the calories and the body fat and improve the circulatory and heart problems. So what in essence can you do?
  • Walk. The Executive Health Organisation says walking is a very efficient exercise and is the only one that you can follow all the years of your life. Studies have yielded definite improvement in health and proved beneficial to the heart and weight-loss of thousands of people.
  • Do some household chores, like gardening, sweeping, washing (car, floor, etc), cleaning the yard. These may not be vigorous exercises, yet will keep you on the move usefully.
  • Leave your car or motorcycle when you proceed to the nearby grocery, bakery or market. Walk. The idea is to break your sedentariness.
  • If you can, do some exercise, like swimming, cycling, dancing, skiing, etc. This will help reduce stress, improve your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, maintain bone mass, prevent osteoporosis and fractures and improve memory in the elderly.

Remember however that there are conflicting views about how much exercise you should do. Some believe 20 minutes per day is sufficient; others recommend one hour per day. Scientific research and studies indicate that a roughly-20-minute-a-day exercise, although will not melt off your kilos, can significantly prevent your cardiac risks.

3. Keep your weight under control

  • Heavy weight is considered a major cardiac risk factor. So all you need to do is maintain a healthy weight. Now what is a healthy weight? Put simply it is one that respects your Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It is obtained from dividing your body weight (in kg) by the square of your height (in centimetres). 

Consider yourself:

  • Underweight if your BMI is equal to or below 18.5
  • Normal weight, between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight, between 25.0 and 29.9
  • Obese, if your BMI is 30 and above.

4. Quit or avoid smoking and drinking

  • It’s no news: smoking tobacco has negative effects on nearly every organ of the body. It impairs overall health. From lung cancer to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases smoking remains the leading cause of death that can be prevented.
  • Like smoking, alcohol affects every organ in the body. Beer, wine, and liquor contain an intoxicating ingredient in the form of ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Alcohol is readily absorbed into the bloodstream. It acts on the central nervous system with depressive outcomes. How intense is the effect of alcohol on the body depends on the amount consumed, not the type of alcoholic drink.
  • The choice is clear. If you smoke or consume alcohol quit, or simply avoid.

5. Keep a medical watch

A medical surveillance will go a long way in keeping any health inconsistencies in check. Make it a ritual to:

  • Visit your health institution. Talk to your doctor. Keep a health diary and follow-up regularly.
  • Take any prescribed drugs as may be directed.
  • Don’t grab any dietary medication or “health pills” from the street corner shop; seek appropriate specialized medical advice if you intend to go for a dietary programme. Pseudo-medical advisors and self-medication can do more harm than good. Your health control needs to be adapted to your metabolic set up.

If you follow these rituals there’s no reason why you should not enjoy a better health. You can start at any age. A small step can make all the difference. If you eat healthy, stop smoking and do more exercise you could have an extra 12 years’ life. In fact, a study from the University of Cambridge reveals that: 

  • You can live up to five years longer if you eat five fruits and vegetables
  • You could have another four to five years if you stop smoking
  • You can have up to three years extra life if you do more exercise.

The choice is yours now.

 

If you have any other suggestions for an improved lifestyle I’d be pleased to read about them.

 

To your health.

 

Writing as Freelance: Some Useful Links

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I’ve been quite busy these days. Yeah, really hectic. The days are going by quicker than I’d imagine. My blog’s been static for a while. So in order to keep you posted and also to wrap up for this month I thought of recommending you some articles in case you haven’t come across them yet. Here they are:

  1. If you are contemplating to write a book review and you are not sure how to make your way, no need to look further. Here’s a clear and concise article about How to Write a Book Review. It tells you what a book review is and how to go about writing one; the important points you need to consider from the title, the preface, the table of contents to reading the whole text, the genre, style, point of view, preparing an outline and writing the draft. There’s everything you need to know.
  2. If writing a query letter is what’s keeping you from sending an article proposal I’d recommend Moira Allen’s How to Write a Successful Query. This article deals lengthily on the issue of query; the value of a query, the query letter essentials and how to format a query letter. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t come up with a powerful query letter if you follow the guidelines.
  3. Jenna Glatzer’s The Beginner’s Guide To Freelance Writing gives a detailed account of how you can break into writing for magazines, newspapers and e-zines. From getting the “big idea” to researching the markets to writing the killer query, Jenna tells us all about writing “on spec or not on spec”, rights issues, interviews, and recycling your “big idea”, among other useful considerations. If you’ve considered freelancing as an option that’s where you’ll find all you need to master.
  4. Last but not least, if you are still confused about the correct format of your manuscript before you send it off Moira Allen will guide you through her A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format. She gives a standard formatting and submission procedure when you’ve finished your draft. From the basics to the final submission this article leads you the way.

I hope you find them useful. Keep on the good work. Write as often as you can if writing is what you have chosen as a career, as a side income earner or simply as a hobby. Good luck and happy May Day to the entire world’s labour force.

Tractor Crash at my Premises

 img_01.JPG It was exactly noon, earlier today. I had just taken my lunch. I was installing myself before the TV for the mid-day news. BOOM…PHSSHHHH. I was taken aback. I drew the curtains to see what happened. A white smoke in the air, a blurred view of a vehicle in my yard, and I heard the roaring of an engine that stopped seconds after.

At this moment I could hardly gauge what it was really. I just put on my clothing and rushed outside. A tractor has crashed against the wall fencing my yard along the roadside.

It was such an impact, like a bomb exploding beside me. The smoke, which was actually a cloud of white dust from the broken wall, gave the idea there was a fire. My whole body remained shaking for a while.

In the yard I saw a man, probably the driver, staggering. “What happened, Sir?” I asked. “The brakes failed,” he answered. And when I asked him whether he or anybody was injured he didn’t reply. He appeared confused and stayed dumb as he rushed to the road. A four wheeler was stopping to see the scene. He jumped into it and headed to the hospital.

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There seemed to be another guy with him. It was the tractor attendant whom nobody saw how he got down and where he went. He disappeared in the twinkling of an eye.

Everybody was stunned. There was no serious injury, at least from what we saw for ourselves. Everyone thought it was fatal. Fortunately not. The tractor was heading downhill to Port Mathurin with a tank full of water for distribution somewhere. Were there no wall the tractor could have ended with my house some 10 metres away.

Here’s a view of the wall after clearing. img_0746a.JPG

Recent flooding: How relevant were my arguments?

In the last post in my series relating to the recent flood that hit Mauritius I referred to the event as a wake-up call. I highlighted a number of things which I considered as shortcomings and I came up with some suggestions about what needed to be done to mitigate the impacts of such catastrophe in future. “One fatality is too much,” had said the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the unprecedented flood, which took the lives of four of our citizens.

One of my concerns related to the responsibility of the authorities, namely the local authorities, regarding the drainage system with the ongoing property development in the country and the state of the canals, rivers and other prone areas.

I also raised the issue of enforcement during warnings to deter people from wandering without plausible reason when a warning is in force, as is the case in some countries.

These two issues were also prominently dealt with in the second post of the series.

And I proposed that the authorities need to take action to review the existing state of our drainage systems and exercise controls over property development such that they take adequate care of water evacuation. Then I suggested that some sort of policing needed to be done to track warning defaulters.

Well, I have to say it loud that my concerns were justified. Reports by Gibb consultants between 2001 and 2003, extracts of which were published in the weekly newspaper Le Defi Plus of last week (18 April), simply confirm what I mentioned in my “flood series of posts”. Absolutely convergent with the arguments presented in the posts. They show to what extent our system of water evacuation was deficient and the lack of adequate measures by the authorities to remedy the situation, especially in relation to property development and the state of drains and prone areas.

But what comforts me more is the decision of the Government last week to come up with a legislation to track and convict those who ignore warnings. I was a bit hesitant to come up with this proposal because I considered it as a very sensitive issue. But, as the PM mentioned, such enforcement measures exist in other countries. Reunion island is one example in the region.

I don’t want to boast myself in any way. But it’s indeed reinvigorating when your ideas meet with positive findings and outcomes of reports and political decisions. It gives another boost to probe yet further into issues, however sensitive and burning they may be. Provided you do in-depth research and come up with constructive ideas.

The “Rhythm of Writing” Formula

Even great writers will tell you: writing has never been an easy stuff. Granted to some extent we are all writers for doing some sort of writing now and then – letters, notes, mails and the like, which I’d call informal writing. Here you may not need to worry much about the quality of your writing. But when you are writing for a wider public then things become more serious and complicated. You have to know what you want to convey to the reader and how best you can do it to avoid the least confusion and monotonous reading.

One word of caution, though. The purpose of this post is not to tell you the ABC’s of writing. I just want to hint you on how the use of sentences is important in delivering the right meaning. If you are already an experienced writer this may not be for you.

Should our sentences be long or short? How long? How short? That’s the dilemma that writers often face. Any writer. Don’t feel awkward. It’s simple. Ask yourself questions. Do you want to be specific? You want to get to the point? Want to add stress or punch? Yes? Use short sentences.

Do you want to convey intense emotion, especially in writing fiction? Then use longer sentences.

Too much use of either the short or long sentence makes you appear a novice. Worse it bores the reader. And you don’t want to. Do you? What you are interested in is producing writing that will not suck; that will keep your reader tuned. Right? You need to keep the right balance. A good mix of short and long sentences is what makes a well-balanced writing. How to get that “good mix”? Relax. There’s a “simple formula”.

If you want to know more about the “simple formula” for sentence lengths, read Kristy Taylor’s Varying Your Sentence Lengths. “Learning the ‘rhythm of writing’ isn’t something you’ll learn overnight, but with practice you’ll catch areas in your writing that lack variety and you’ll learn how to transform your sentences into memorable prose,” says Kristy in concluding her article.

To your writing.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 4

Let’s recapitulate before going further. In the first post we looked into the event that hit the country. Then we probed into the existing torrential rain warning system after which, yesterday we addressed the issue in the context of global climate change and the summer floods that hit the UK.
This post, the last in the series, is dedicated to suggesting a way forward. It’ll highlight some aspects of flood preparedness that need to be addressed and provide simple safety tips that will go a long way in protecting people and preventing catastrophic outcomes from flood events.

Flood preparedness

Flood is not a new event here. Although it’s not a frequent occurrence, there’s ground for concern. The first severe flood occurred in 1959 and another flood event was noted in 1979 when a 15-day non-stop rainfall caused severe flooding throughout the country after a storm named Hiacynthe stayed in the region longer than expected.

The event of last week was in some sort a wake-up call. That is why people need to be in a constant state of preparedness. I won’t pretend to be a specialist in flood resilience mechanism. It’s basic knowledge that a flash flood does not announce ahead. It occurs when heavy rain falls in a prone area. People need to keep track of weather conditions and stay away from the hot spots like streams, canals and drains in order to protect themselves. Water can rush downstream heavily and cause havoc, like it did at Mon Gout.

Suggestions for an improved resilience strategy

Without pre-empting the findings and recommendations of the FFC here’s a list of issues which I consider important for an improved disaster management system, including flood.

  1. TRES – The scheme has been in place for more than two decades. The changing face of climate requires that it be revisited to make it responsive to the challenges of the day.
  2. Weather services – There’s a need to probe into the technical limitations of the forecasting system in relation to the TRES and find out whether the competencies are adequate and how capacity building is responding in the context of new hazards.
  3. Disaster Warning Management Board (DWMB) – The warning system has hitherto been in the sole hands of the Director of the Meteorological Services. Incoming challenges seem to add up to the pressure on that person. Extra brains will definitely add value to the decision-making process in crucial moments. I don’t think it’s a big deal if the authorities could consider setting up a board comprising three to five specialists from key areas, including the Director of the Meteorological Services and experts in hydrology, for that purpose. They can collectively decide on the type and timing of warning to be issued based on information from the weather services and issue directives, free from perceived political interference, for the management of the incident.
  4. Flood prone areas – It should be ensured that a properly monitored survey is done on the state of drains, canals, rivers, and all places prone to flooding and appropriate remedial measures are taken where necessary well before the approach of the heavy rain season. Although provided in the TRES this task seems to have been taken for granted. The authorities should be able to overcome the lethargic approach and look for the missing links.
  5. Drainage system and flood-resilient infrastructures – Strict control should be effected on building and property development plans to ensure proper drainage system and improved flood-resilience. Here also there were apparent signs of weaknesses.
  6. Schools – Clearer instructions and more straightforward guidelines should be worked out for the opening/closing of schools during extreme weather events or progressive deterioration of weather conditions capable of causing serious inconvenience to the safety, security and health of school children irrespective of the criterion of 100 mm of rainfall within a given period.
  7. Policing – This is a very sensitive issue. But experience is the best teacher. Isn’t it? Some sort of sanction need to be provided to control those who ignore warnings and venture irresponsibly without good and sufficient cause in visibly risky weather conditions, especially during a warning. People should know they have a duty (under the law) to act responsibly.
  8. Rapid Emergency Rescue and Evacuation Services – Rescue and evacuation services need to be prompt, effective and efficient. A better coordinated approach is essential to avoid ambiguity and waste of time, effort and energy.
  9. Communication – Alternative means of communication, e,g. sms or mail alerts, electronic bill boards, should be explored to ensure the public is adequately warned of imminent dangers.
  10. Awareness and sensitisation – A properly monitored ongoing campaign needs to be put in place to arouse people’s awareness to dangers of nature. Specific responsibility should be assigned to that effect.
  11. Accountability – The proposed DWMB could constantly monitor progress with regard to the responsibility entrusted upon stakeholders in order to ensure proper accountability for actions or omissions in their areas of concern. This would ensure proper preparedness to catastrophic events. The existing Cyclone and Other Disasters Committee meets only during a disaster period.
  12. Family disaster plan – The population should be encouraged to set up a family disaster plan indicating what they need to do and what provisions they need to make prior to the occurrence of the event.

Follow simple rules and protect yourself

You’ll do yourself good if you follow the tips below in case of a flood threat:

  1. Go to higher grounds immediately if you are outdoors.
  2. Stay away from the vulnerable areas, like rivers, streams, canals, ditches, river beds, open drains.
  3. Don’t attempt to cross running flood water.
  4. Don’t drive through flooded roadways. Take another route.
  5. In case of breakdown, leave your vehicle immediately and go to higher grounds.
  6. Understand the terms used by the weather services. For instance if you are told there’s river flooding, it means rivers are filling up and getting out of banks.
  7. Be especially careful at night.

Conclusion

To conclude this series of posts I’d be somewhat blunt: we cannot point fingers so long as we don’t know the A to Z of the situation. People tend to react in a blind fury at losses and inconveniences sustained by them or their dear ones. This is comprehensible. But what’s more important is putting our heads together to find solutions adapted to the changing circumstances. No system is set to remain permanently static. Periodic review is what makes it dynamic and responsive to ongoing changes.

Putting blames blindly leads to nowhere. At some point in time you’ll find that somebody somewhere failed. At another, you’ll see that nobody can be held responsible due to the complexity of the issue. Yet if you get into a thorough post-mortem analysis you’ll find the third culprit: everybody. If at all we have to blame it’s the system that didn’t seem to yield the expected result.

So let us not divert from the main issue. Let’s be inspired by Sir Michael Pitt while we wait patiently for the outcome of the Fact Finding Committee which will start its sitting soon. Have you anything to tell the Committee? Contact them.

There you are folks. That concludes my “flood” series. If you appreciated it share it with your friends or you might consider subscribing to my feed to keep yourself posted. If you have any ideas or suggestions I’ll see you in my comment box. Cheers.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 3

So far we have looked into the chronology of events and the adequacy or inadequacy of the system in place. You can already sense the complexity of the issue unfolding swiftly. There’s a lot more. We are a small country after all.

This post will look into the problem of flooding in the context of global climate change and the vulnerability of developed countries like the UK and cast a quick glance at lessons learnt from their experiences.

A worldwide issue in the wake of global climate change

Weather doesn’t behave the same way anymore. With the ongoing global changes in climatic conditions extreme events are becoming recurrent, hitting places where they rarely did previously, and with rare intensity. Heavy rains and flooding are not an issue only for small countries like Mauritius. Other well developed countries have become vulnerable too and experienced distressful moments despite all the technological advances.

The summer floods in June-July last year in the UK is a vivid example of the complexity of prediction of such events and the vulnerability of people to cope with them. They caused widespread chaos; school children were blocked after their coaches were trapped in flooded areas, several vehicles were stranded in parking areas and thousands of homes and businesses were affected, according to reports from the BBC.

The failings in the summer floods in the UK

The independent Reviewer into the summer floods in the UK, Sir Michael Pitt, in an interim report released recently highlighted several loopholes in the system in place in the UK to address such disaster. Among the failings it was noted that there was no national flood emergency plan; no clear responsibility for dealing with urban flooding; no systematic stockpiling of emergency equipment, such as boats. The drainage system was overloaded and there was ambiguity with regard to coordination of emergency and rescue. The complexity and technical limitations of flood prediction surfaced out.

Sir Michael Pitt’s report, which is due for final release next summer, contains several recommendations including the need to improve weather forecasting techniques; build more flood-resilient properties; and ensure greater leadership from the local authorities. However, Sir Michael did not pinpoint any blame. “The report does not point the finger of blame. Anyone looking for that will be disappointed,” said Sir Michael. “What we’ve tried to do is look forward and be positive about what can be done in the future.” (Source: BBC News)

Fact Finding Committee (FFC)

Back in Mauritius a three-member Fact Finding Committee has been set up under the head of a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court with one of the assessors being a former Director of the Mauritius Meteorological Services. No doubt this committee will come up with a positive way forward for enhanced flood-resilience (or general disaster-resilience to cover other disasters).

An overhaul of the existing procedures has become imperative with the emerging challenges. We witnessed unprecedented tidal waves in May last year when the government resolved to review measures to mitigate consequences. On 31 January this year the meteorological services was targeted for abrupt lifting of warning during tropical storm Gula. The recent flood event was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The assistance of the WMO has also been sought to find out about the forecasting techniques of the local weather services and how the warning systems can be improved.

Tomorrow in the final post of the series I’ll look into what could be done for a better flood preparedness strategy.