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.

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