Category Archives: News

Results of RRA Elections

Finally the results are out. The OPR has won a landslide victory with the election of 10 candidates in five constituencies, namely 2 to 6. The MR could only secure the election of two candidates in constituency number 1 by a low margin. Since the first partial results it was clear that the OPR was heading towards an unprecedented victory.

However, the gap between the two parties has been decreased by the allocation of five additional seats to the MR on the basis of proportional representation. So in all the OPR will have 10 and the MR 7 members in the RRA.

In all probability Serge Clair will keep the position of Chief Commissioner, while Nicolas Von Mally will be the new Minority Leader.

The composition of the Executive will be known shortly with the appointment of commissioners.

Alfa King Memories

International Epilepsy Day

Today the world celebrates International Epilepsy Day. This day was first celebrated around the world on Monday 9 February 2015 at the joint initiative of the International Bureau of Epilepsy (IBE) and the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). Such celebration has been the subject of much debate in these organizations until a consensus was reached to mark this day on the second Monday of February every year onwards.

As for other international days, a theme is chosen every year. This year the theme is “Putting Epilepsy in the Picture”.

The aim is to provide a platform for those with epilepsy to share experiences and stories, and for sensitising people, organizations and governments on the need to encourage epileptic persons to live their life to their fullest potential, to have appropriate legislations to guarantee their human rights, and on the urgency of increased investments on IT-aided support and research in epilepsy with a view to securing more appropriate diagnosis, treatment and medication options.

It is a day to reflect upon how we can contribute and how we can join hands together and pool resources to bring epilepsy out of the shadows. It is a day dedicated to those who, by their condition, are looked down, stigmatized, discriminated and marginalized. It is a day that aims at bringing hope and comfort to those often sidelined as mental patients.

But first we need to understand this dreaded condition which affects one in every 100 people in the world.

Epilepsy is characterised by recurrent seizures. A seizure occurs when the brain is unable to organize and coordinate messages coming to it from the rest of the body and the spinal cord through nerve fibres. The person experiences bouts of fits and he faints; his body stiffens and his muscles convulse; the whole body jerks.

Well, most of the time seizures can be controlled successfully through various strategies – medication, psychological and medical counseling, physiotherapy, neurotherapy, massage therapy and social and environmental support, to name but a few. What is difficult to overcome is the stigmatization and discrimination they are often subjected to. That’s the root of most of the problems of epileptic patients.

Epilepsy is all too often misunderstood, whence the backward thought and taboo around it. So let us see what epilepsy is and what it is not.

  • Epilepsy is not a mental illness; rather a neurological condition, although in certain cases an epilepsy can accompany mental conditions. It has been categorized as a disease in 2014 by the ILAE. This, according to ILAE, constitutes “a very important step forward in ensuring that legislators, public health officials, media people and funders see epilepsy for what it is: a major serious health issue which can destroy lives”. In other words this categorization aims at giving epilepsy the prominence it deserves.
  • Epilepsy does not have any spiritual or supernatural cause. By the ancient nature of epilepsy some people believe that epileptic patients are “possessed” by evil spirits and should be treated by invoking mystical powers. This is merely a myth.
  • Epilepsy is a physical condition in the same way as arthritis and blindness (arthritis occurs in the joints, epilepsy occurs in the brain).
  • It can be triggered by various factors, often by a head injury, an infection in the brain or a stroke or brain haemorrhage; brain tumours or structural abnormalitiesbrain not developed properly in the womb or damage caused during birth. This is symptomatic type of epilepsy.
  • However in 50% of people diagnosed there is no apparent cause. Genetic cause is suspected and thus it is thought to be inherited. This type of epilepsy is known as idiopathic
  • In cryptogenic epilepsy, the third type, no cause is found but a structural cause is suspected.
  • Epilepsy is not contagious. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
  • Anyone at any time of their life can develop epilepsy. It is most common under the 20’s (case of seizures in unborn child, which will continue after the baby is born. Some are born with low seizure threshold. Others with physical cause); and over 60’s: because they are more susceptible to stroke and other cardio-vascular problems, and because the brain may be damaged as a result of any of these they may go on to develop epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can simply go away, called spontaneous remission, usually in children reaching puberty. Some children just grow out of their epilepsy, usually by the age of 15 or 16, after which they will no longer have seizures.
  • There is no need to worry. Epileptic patients are no different from others. Contrary to common beliefs, they are not dangerous. If you observe somebody having seizures don’t panic, although it may be scary to watch. Most seizures are not medical emergencies; they end up after one minute or two. Let the person recover by himself. Just keep them away from objects that can cause them harm, if possible put something soft under their head. Once the seizure is over, put them in recovery position. If the seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes or should you observe any signs of injury or sickness, seek medical help.
  • With appropriate treatment and follow-up most epileptic people may keep their status under check. They may lead a normal life like anyone else; they can go to school, work, practice sports, get married and socialize.

Many famous and well known people have had epilepsy in their lives. Here are some of them:

  • Sir Isaac Newton, famous scientist who studied many scientific disciplines and formulated the laws of motion and of gravitation,
  • Agatha Christie, English crime fiction writer,
  • Charles Dickens, English novelist of the Victorian era,
  • Alfred Nobel, Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite,
  • Richard Burton, well known for his distinctive voice and at one time the highest paid Hollywood actor,
  • Chanda Gunn, American ice hockey player. She won a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
  • Alexander the Great, ancient Macedonian king.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the U.S. He was subject to epileptic seizures, but was still a man of courage and strength appreciated by many.

People with epilepsy can live to their highest potential provided they get the necessary supportive environment. Each of us, family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, social organizations, governments, has a role in setting up the necessary framework aimed at targeting our efforts towards helping them to unleash their potential and get more self confidence so as to better manage their condition and remain fully integrated in normal life.

For those seeking help and support, know that there are centres around the world that can bring answers to your queries and apprehensions. In Mauritius there’s an epilepsy centre in Port Louis at 442 Boulevard Rivaltz. If you are in Rodrigues the centre is situated at Manique, La Ferme. Both are under the aegis of EDYCS Epilepsy Group. You can avail of a variety of specialist support services.

Wish all concerned with the subject of epilepsy a fruitful day.

References:

  • Alice Hanscomb and Liz Hughes – Epilepsy, a publication of EUCARE in association with The International Society for Epilepsy
  • Website of the IBE and ILAE

Alfa King Memories

Day of Poll in Rodrigues

80.19% of the total number of registered electors accomplished their civic rights today. Although this figure is slightly less than that of the previous elections held in 2012 it augurs a good sign as regards the interest of voters at the regional elections as affirmed by the leaders. As early as 06.00 am voters proceeded to their respective polling stations to vote for their preferred candidates.

Supporters of the two main parties gathered side by side, or at places opposite to each other just outside the 200 m boundary. They were dancing and singing all along in mutual respect at the tune of “nou pou coule ti bato” (“we’ll sink the boat” – the boat being the symbol of the MR party) by the OPR group, and “nou pou balyer OPR” (“we’ll sweep away the OPR”) by the MR group. This forms part of the typical Rodriguan folklore during elections.

At the close of the poll the ballot boxes were transported under strict security to the main polling stations of each of the six constituencies. The authorities were satisfied with the good conduct of the elections. The Leaders of the main parties expressed their confidence as to the results that are expected around mid-day tomorrow.

Whether it will be an OPR or an MR led Regional Assembly, Rodrigues will be subjected to another five-year mandate towards realization of the objectives set in the respective electoral programmes.

Alfa King Memories

Election Time in Rodrigues

After a little more than one month of intense electoral campaign, electors in Rodrigues (an island about 650 kms to the east of Mauritius and forming part of the Republic of Mauritius, but with a distinct form of regional government) will be called upon to vote for members of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA) on Sunday 12 February 2017. Such election takes place every five years.

The party having the majority of elected members will form the “government” headed by a Chief Commissioner and various Commissioners. While the party with a lesser number of returned candidates will be in the opposition headed by a Minority Leader. The RRA meets usually at Port Mathurin, conducting its meeting in the same manner as Parliament with a Chairperson (not necessarily an elected member) assuming the role of Speaker.

The main parties had rallied their supporters on Thursday 9 February. The OPR (Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais), headed by Serge Clair, the actual Chief Commissioner, had convened its people at Malabar in the central part of the island, while the MR (Mouvement Rodriguais) headed by Nicolas Von Mally (ex-Minister), met at Mourouk near the seaside.

Each party claims to have gathered a greater number of people around their electoral manifesto containing their vision for the development of the island. The MR is calling for a change with the motto “Ler sanzman fine arriver” (It’s time for change) while the OPR is reiterating another mandate to allow them to continue with their so called ongoing development programme.

Except for some minor isolated cases of clashes between supporters of adversarial parties (which form part of the electoral folklore) no major incident is to be deplored, fortunately. Resources have been supplied by mainland Mauritius to ensure the smooth running of the election.

Security has been reinforced to minimise incidents as far as is reasonably practicable. A broadcast station has been established at Les Cocotiers Hotel to relay timely news and videos in addition to the local MBC station at Citronelle. The Electoral Commissioner has given strict instructions to ensure all related exercises are carried out at their best.

Electors are invited to exercise their rights by casting their votes in all confidentiality. The counting of votes will be effected on Monday 13 and allocation of additional seats on the basis of proportional representation will be done at 06.00 pm on same day, as announced by the Electoral Commissioner.

The last RRA elections were held in February 2012.

 

Alfa King Memories

Mumbai’s 9/11

As I write the death of one of our fellow-countrymen makes the local news headlines. He is one of the victims of the cold-blooded killings at Taj Hotel in Mumbai on Thursday last. As bank chief executive he was on official mission in India.

 

His wife who had accompanied him was luckier. She had left her room for the business centre when terrorists perpetrated attacks in the hotel. She was immediately brought to safer locations while her husband was still in his room. They exchanged a last phone conversation at around 11.30 am Indian time. No news since then until she was called to identify his corpse.

 

We also learned that the anti-terrorist chief in India was shot dead in an encounter. Several innocent people are reported dead following gun fires and bomb blasts. The target seems to be clear. Hotels like Taj and Oberoi are known to lodge high profile international travelers.

 

Attacks like this one reminds us of the September 11, 2001 episode of the twin towers in New York. The world is becoming ever more insecure. Terrorists seem to be everywhere and they can strike any time. No country can be said to be safe.

 

Is there any means we can identify and annihilate such moves? Can anybody find out why terrorism strikes? Is there a terrorism profile? How is it that the security services are not privy until the terror has occurred? We always have to indulge in fire fighting. Can the world come up with effective prevention strategies?

 

These and many other questions still haunt the minds of all people around the world. As silly as it might appear I am tempted to ask whether terrorists are human beings. Any human being worthy of his name cannot commit such cold-blooded killings without any particular motives. If there are motives, what they?

 

May be if we can go down to the source of these motives we might come up with some sort of explanation. And only then can we find possible means to bring terrorist attacks to a halt once for all. It’s not a one-person concern. Every body should be in as an anti-terrorist ambassador. Remember terrorists do not discriminate. Their hands are always on the trigger. They hit; and they hit hard. They kill. They act like robots.

 

 

Mauritius Adopts Summer Time

At 2.00 am on Sunday 26 October this year the clocks in Mauritius read 3.00 am. The country stepped into the summer time concept practiced in many countries. Government aims primarily to save on energy costs as it expects a reduction in the demand of electricity supply at peak hour in the evening. This measure will last until 2.00 am on 29 March 2009 and it is said to be on a pilot basis.

The introduction of this measure however didn’t go without controversial voices from various quarters. Will the electricity charges go down in real terms? What will happen to those religious beliefs that attach special importance on birth dates and specific prayer times? Will it not impact negatively on the health of people with a disturbance in the circadian rhythm? These and many other questions are still not clear in the minds of the common people for whom it means no more that getting up earlier in the morning.

Mauritius has its own specificity with a diversity of cultural heritage. In the absence of prior study on the real impacts of this new system we will have to wait for the answers at the end of summer time. Let’s hope the government comes up with a comprehensive feedback on the practical implications of this innovation to find out whether these are in consonance with the main objective. Only then can it come up with a definite stand on the implementation of such measure in the future.

It’s worth mentioning that such measure was implemented for the first time in the history of Mauritius in 1982 when the MMM-PSM alliance won all the seats at the national elections. A spokesman who was Minister of Energy at that time said in a radio broadcast last week that it did indeed bring about a decrease in the electricity demand by 5% which was quite conclusive in his opinion.

Forging Ahead

New Look, New Design

As I told you in my previous post, I had in mind to change the look of my blog. Are the same theme and the same design still appealing after some time? This question has been haunting me since a while. If for some reason or other we tend to resist change, I have a whole different view of this pertinent issue. On-going change, I believe, favours fresh enthusiasm and commitment at the service of the customer. We shouldn’t keep out of mind that what we are is what our customers want us to be. We have to live up to their expectations if we want to survive.

What are our readers looking for? They need to know not only what’s new but also how it’s new. The content is vital; the wrapping is even more. Have you ever halted a while in the shopping mall? Have you noticed people carefully choosing the wrapping material for their gifts? Why are they so selective on something that’s only going to serve as a cover or blanket only for the moment it’s handed over to the recipient? Once the gift is in hand they forget about the wrapper. Isn’t it? This is what I’d call the appeal factor. The stuff that wraps gifts is as important, if not more, as the gift itself. I hope advertising agents won’t contradict me on this matter.

New Hosting Service

It all happened when my webmaster told me he was in the process of making a new design for his blog. He was at the same time looking for a more reliable web hosting service for Wakish Wonderz. We had enough of the erratic service we were having.We’ve been discussing about this during the past months. He was determined for a change. He also proposed to give my blog a new look too. I agreed to that, and so I decided that I won’t resume blogging until all this would have been cleared.

Side Bar De-cluttered a bit

It took quite some time. That’s the “other reason for my long absence” I mentioned in my previous post. And we came up with this new design for Alfa King Memories. You’ll notice the new logo and avatar; a slight de-cluttering of the side bar; and the posts appearing only partly to allow more space per page. The archive has been moved to a separate page. Some items that I consider don’t make any difference have been removed. There’s still some more de-cluttering to do and we’ll tackle this as we go along. What do you think about it?

Forward with Determination

From the bold “first step which was the hardest” some 18 months ago, Alfa King is “forging ahead” with renewed vigour thanks to your support and encouragement. There’s a substantial growth in my visitors’ list; and I hope to have a still bigger number with posts that need to reconcile both readers’ interests and areas of expertise I feel better at ease.

So there you are folks. Keep visiting Alfa King Memories. There’s lot more to dig out and learn together. Feel free, as usual, to air any suggestions or thoughts through my comment box.

Still There to Serve You

Heya! Here am I. A relatively long absence indeed. Well, I know it’s been longer than intended. All my plans to connect with you last week were in vain. How many of you have had their telephone line interrupted for at least a week? It was my case since Tuesday 16 September. It seems a lorry hit against one of the poles in the roadside where I live and the main cable was torn apart.

And you know the time it takes to get the whole thing fixed again, especially when you have a non-stop rain for nearly three days, from Tuesday evening to Friday morning. Just to give you an idea, the 24-hour rainfall on Wednesday reached a record-breaking amount of 250 mm in the central part of the country; and 270 mm at some places, which largely exceeded the long-term average for September.

The line was restored at last today, not without multiple complaints. Can you figure out having to do without internet for a whole week? Our lives have become so technology-dependant that even a slight breakdown amplifies our distress. I don’t dare look at my list of waiting tasks.

Anyway, when I came back from Rodrigues I went straight to my office the next working day. Usually after a tour of service we go on leave immediately on a priority basis, if we so desire. Instead I chose to have some vacation leave as from the second week of this month. I’ll resume my full time job in the second week of October. Plenty of time to recuperate and get settled. Right?

Ok. Now, what have I been doing? To be frank I was idle. So why didn’t I keep you posted? I have no straightforward answer. But I had to check back all my routine matters, banking, car insurance and road tax, utilities and the rest of other personal matters so that there’s nothing outstanding.

I also wanted to have a deeper look over this whole issue of blogging again. The break allowed me some time to go through my pages and readership statistics. It was a fruitful exercise and I came up with some quite interesting clues as to what they’ve been looking for. But there’s yet another reason for my absence: I was contemplating a change in the look and design of my blog. We’ll talk more about this in my next post.

Watch out.

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.

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.

img_0713a.JPG

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.

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.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 2

From the previous post you should have some idea on the sequence of events that led to various (misleading so to say) interpretation of matters.

Today I’ll go into further details on some of the provisions of the Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme and analyse its adequacy or inadequacy with close reference to what obtains in other parts of the world.

Responsibilities under the Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme

With the severity of the events one can reasonably argue as to the adequacy of the scheme and the adherence to its provisions by the respective bodies. For instance the scheme provides that before the convening of a meeting of the Cyclone and Other Natural Disasters Committee, the Local Authorities should:

  1. undertake a survey of flood prone areas and the state of the drainage system and arrange for appropriate remedial action to be taken;
  2. carry out an audit of all drainage systems including the state of riverbeds in their respective areas of responsibility;
  3. arrange for the cleaning of all drains, canals, beds and banks of lakes, rivulets and streams systematically and specially during the rainy season;
  4. update the list of flood prone areas…..;
  5. review urban and rural development building plans taking into consideration the need for the provision of adequate drainage system; and
  6. compile appropriate documentation (audiovisual aids, photographs, handouts, etc) of flood events to promote public awareness.

While the Police with the assistance of the Fire Services and the Prisons Department have the responsibility to organise rescue or evacuation exercise.

Have these duties been discharged as indicated? People complained of lack or complete absence of assistance from the emergency and rescue services.

Awareness campaigns and the maintenance of drains, canals and other prone areas involve adequate resources in terms of labour and capital. Reports indicate that drains and canals at several places were clogged or simply rendered ineffective or inexistent by property development. And from press statements we gather that the authorities had to struggle through financial constraints in order to live up to their responsibilities.

No doubt heavy amount of accumulated water would gush once it finds a path. And that’s what happened at Mon Gout where the poor child was carried away along with a lady.

Then there’s one fundamental issue that needs attention: all too often people ignore warnings and they act irresponsibly when venturing in visibly risky weather conditions. And there are those for whom the sense of civic responsibility is a big deal. Just figure out the bus discharging its passengers in an over flooded area. Was there anyone to stop the child from crossing the bridge? It appears she was accompanied. Was there any public awareness campaign? If yes, how effective was it?

Those are the areas where the shoe pinches; and we should direct our effort in investigating into these aspects of the catastrophe in order to come up with mitigation measures for the future.

Is the Scheme adequate?

The cyclone emergency scheme has worked fairly well in Mauritius. With four stages of warning from Class I to Class IV the population is adequately informed of the imminent dangers of cyclones. But the torrential rain warning is not phased. A warning is issued only when the amount of rainfall has reached 100 mm and is likely to persist for several hours.

Emergency schemes and early warning systems vary from country to country. It all depends on the nature of the hazards. But the principle of these systems is the same. All are concerned with providing explicit and timely advice to the population so that they are prepared beforehand to face the events with minimal inconveniences and to protect themselves.

In some countries there’s a three-stage warning system for weather hazards including thunderstorms, floods, storms and tornadoes. A watch is issued when the weather services expect people to watch out for weather problems and when things might turn bad. An advisory is issued when minor street flooding starts to occur, meaning problems have started. While they’ll issue a warning when storms are actually causing considerable problems like flash flooding and things have become dangerous.

Can these systems be adopted or adapted to the local context? It’s up to the authorities to ponder upon them. The recent flood event has definitely given some food for thought. There’s widespread criticism with regard to the criteria of 100 mm. Some opinions indicate that when this has happened it’s already too late; it’s time for rescue and evacuation rather than to start taking precautionary measures.

Perhaps the authorities could also investigate into the enforcement side of warnings in an endeavour to situate the responsibility of each and every citizen. Are we responsible citizens of this country? It costs nothing for any Tom Dick and Harry to criticize; but it does cost some bucks in terms of man, money and materials when the rescue team has to set foot in gullies to save those who’ve been stuck out of their own imprudence by simply ignoring the safety instructions in disaster conditions. I won’t go into asking what people do around river banks at a moment when the weather is at its worst. Anyway.

My next post will focus on extreme events as standing challenges the world over. It will peek into the summer floods that hit the UK last year and the main lessons learnt. Stay tuned.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 1

Four dead including one school child of 13 in the unprecedented flood that hit the country on Wednesday last. The child was returning home after early school dismissal due to torrential rain warning. No sooner had she alighted from the bus than she attempted to cross an over flooded bridge to reach her residence. But the water gushing outrageously from the river swept her away from the roadway. How could she gauge the strength of such sudden surge?

Passers by stood dumb, powerless. Several houses were inundated, cars wrecked and roads damaged, causing gross inconvenience. It’s been raining heavily since the preceding week but none expected such a catastrophic outcome like a flash flood that would sweep everything on its way.

I’ll be dealing with the recent flood event of 26 March 2008 in a series of four posts starting from this one. I’ll make a brief analysis of the sequence of events that caused widespread confusion and come up with some suggestions based on experiences here and there.

In such events we tend to look for a scapegoat. That’s typical political, and often communal, strategy. Can we find one? Should we venture to point fingers? Be wary. And don’t be shocked if you happen to unveil the culprits. And culprits there are definitely, three: somebody, nobody and everybody.

In this post I’ll look into what happened on the morning of Wednesday 26 March and what the existing emergency scheme says about torrential rain warnings.

The authorities criticised

The people are pointing at the Meteorological Services for not having warned the population in time. They criticised the Minister of Education for not having taken appropriate action to order school closure right from the morning on that day and for having dismissed school late at a time when, they say, the downpour had exceeded torrential stage. The people are angry with what they call an ineffective emergency response service. They had to organise their own rescue system to prevent those they could from drowning.

Could the torrential rain have been predicted? Was the flooding (over flooding or flash flood) foreseeable? Why did the Meteorological Services wait until 11.00 am (07.00 UT) to issue a torrential rain warning? Why did the Ministry of Education fail to declare a school holiday on that day? Were the authorities up to the level of their responsibility? These and many other questions are still haunting the minds of the people who are outraged and need reassurance.

To a question from the press during the weekend the Deputy Director of the Mauritius Meteorological Services was blunt: “I challenge any meteorological station in the world to be able to predict such torrential rain.” He further stated that, if we can calculate the percentage of humidity in the atmosphere, it’s impossible to know the amount of rainfall that the clouds will release at a given time.

Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme (TRES)

Yet there is a Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme which forms an integral part of the Cyclone and Other Natural Disasters Scheme. This scheme lays specific responsibilities on various bodies, like the Local Authorities, the Meteorological Services, the Road Development Authority, the Ministry of Education, the Police, and the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) among others with regard to the action to be taken in the event of torrential rain conditions. Let us see some of its salient features in order to understand whether what happened on Wednesday could have been prevented. The scheme provides as follows:

  1. The Meteorological Services is required to advise the Ministry of Education and Human Resources and issue warnings at regular intervals as soon as “climatic conditions prevailing over Mauritius or Rodrigues produced 100 mm of widespread rains in less than 12 hours and that this heavy rain is likely to continue for several hours”.
  2. Whenever torrential rain conditions have produced 100 mm of rains and heavy rains are likely to continue at the beginning of a school day, schools will not be opened for school children. If such a condition is observed during school hours the Meteorological Services will inform the Ministry of Education and Human Resources who will arrange through the MBC, private radio stations and the Police to warn the public accordingly.”
  3. As soon as such a warning is issued all classes will stop.” And the National Transport Authority has the responsibility “to arrange for bus facilities in all routes to be provided, as soon as possible, to school children who travel by bus.”

What really happened in that dreary morning?

At 5.00 am (01.00 UT) rainfall recorded hadn’t reached 100 mm, the weather services say. But the communiqué issued at that time did mention that people including school children should take precautions in view of heavy rainfall forecast. After having ascertained the criteria was reached, the Meteorological Services issued a torrential rain warning at around 11.00 am (07.00 UT). The Cyclone and other Disasters Committee met subsequently and it’s only then that the decision was taken to stop school. By that time it was nearly 2.00 pm (10.00 UT). We all know what followed.

It cannot be said with ease whether a decision could have been taken to close schools altogether on that day in the absence of clear and specific instructions to that effect in the scheme. People can draw their own conclusions based on existing procedures and knowledge of the prevailing situation.

In my next post I’ll probe deeper into the existing scheme and find out how the various parties responded in relation to the responsibilities entrusted on them.