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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Go to higher grounds immediately if you are outdoors.
- Stay away from the vulnerable areas, like rivers, streams, canals, ditches, river beds, open drains.
- Don’t attempt to cross running flood water.
- Don’t drive through flooded roadways. Take another route.
- In case of breakdown, leave your vehicle immediately and go to higher grounds.
- 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.
- Be especially careful at night.
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.
Mauritian residing in Rodrigues, Amanoola Khayrattee (pen name Alfa King) is contributing writer and journalist to La Gazette Mag de l’océan indien and This Week News Mauritius.
Retired, former meteorological cadre, trade unionist and OSH consultant, Amanoola has written for in-house union and other journals, publications and magazines. He runs two blogs since 2007: “Alfa King Memories”, and “Le Journal d’Alfa King”. When he is not reading or writing, he is on a 10+ km daily hike in anticipation of his monthly trails.
Amanoola may be reached at [email protected].