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.

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