Recurrent Floods – What‘s Wrong?

By Amanoola Khayrattee -December 12, 2018

Climate change issues

Nobody enjoys having to pump out water from their dwellings, scrape out and shovel debris from their premises, and kill themselves trying to save what can be from the traumatic effects at each episode of natural disasters. Cottage and other villages afflicted by floods on 10 and 11 December, 2018 have demonstrated to some extent how inefficient and ineffective our preventive system can be.

Everybody knows; nobody dares to commit oneself to what needs to be done to minimize the impacts of weather caprices. Flooding is not new. Climate change is real, even daunting. But human heedlessness is even more disconcerting, although mitigation strategies are well documented and in place.

Effects of global climate change have long been predicted by scientists. Loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, temperature rise due to a significant amount to greenhouse gases produced by human activities, long spells of and more intense heat waves and droughts, stronger and more intense cyclone episodes in certain regions, and increased heavy precipitation are actually occurring and will no doubt continue, in even more frightening ways.

What do we do? Do we just sit down, fold our arms and groan: “it’s a caprice of nature?”

True we cannot control the occurrence of cyclones; we cannot control their movement. Nor can we control how precipitation behaves and results in extensive flooding. But we can control our attitude and behavior towards the realities of the day. We can control how we respond in the face of adversities. But above all we can control how proactive we can be.

Governments cannot discharge themselves from the facts of resulting socio-economic impacts. They are the trustees with regard to the safety and security of the people and assets.

Trying to act after the event from the comfort of an air-conditioned office has never been better than stepping out to see how resilient visibly prone areas are to natural hazards. More than verbiage, people need promptitude of actions with advance practical measures to address issues that keep on dragging.

Instead of wasting time, money and energy debating with headstrong impulsiveness on matters that divide, and that only for the sake of their own power protection, our policy makers would better address issues to ease off the adversities of nature with a view to bringing relief to hundreds of distressed. Is it so pressing to amend the constitution no matter the cost? An amendment that is hardly perceived to bring about concrete improvement in the lives of common people other than of those who are in power and want to cling to it as long as they can. In an effort to tackling the issue of “Best Loser” in the National Assembly, an issue that will benefit only a handful of political cronies, they seem to have forgotten the hundreds of “losers” in the recent flood events.

Villages in despair

Floods have roared in L’Amitié, Mon Goût and Cottage in the north and other areas of the island. People have experienced the adversities of life in water pool conditions. Mon Goût is again in the limelight after the flash flood of 26 March 2008 that took the lives of four people including a child of 13.

In Cottage anger is brewing in the aftermath of another recurrent flood; the villagers are desperate. “Prestigious projects are under way elsewhere, while we’ve been left out”, they say. “We’ve had enough of it. All our efforts have been drowned. And political representatives are nowhere to be seen”. Some people have even gone to the extent of questioning the pertinence and urgency of setting up a rail track to accommodate the controversial metro express when there are areas that need more urgent attention; areas that have a more direct bearing in their lives.

Canals and rivers are clogged. Drains are practically inexistent in many parts of the country. Every cyclone, torrential rain or flood season heralds the same tune; the same grumbling: dwellings and premises inundated, cars wrecked, roads damaged, trees uprooted, power lines damaged by falling trees, rivers over flooded, canals and drains, if there are any, clogged, water creeping up to neck level in some places. It’s become so frequent that everyone seems to be complacent. 

National Disaster Management protocols: Are they reliable?

There’s nothing like “we can’t do anything about it because we’re in a prone region”. Or things like “Mother nature is unpredictable”. Such reasoning is outdated. We have a national issue and there are protocols to deal with situations like this one. The authorities have a major responsibility to be at the forefront when calamitous episodes hit or about to hit and after. That is why we have a National Disaster Management Scheme. It spells out clearly the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders from the Local and governmental authorities to the para-statal bodies and particular non-governmental organizations.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Centre (NDRRMC) has the overall responsibility to oversee the functioning of these protocols and to “coordinate and monitor all preparedness actions and monitor with concerned authorities the implementation of appropriate risk reduction structural and non-structural measures”, among others. Not only during and in the aftermath of an event, but also and more importantly prior to the advent of the flood season.

It is legitimate to ask whether appropriate actions have been taken to ensure prone areas have been adequately monitored for any possible failings. Have surveys been carried out to assess the state of rivers, canals, drains and construction systems prior to the season?

Water level will inevitably rise depending on soil permeability and other factors, but also, and to a great extent, if there’s no way out. Those living in rural areas may recall that canals constructed in the past by “tabisman”, that carried away excess water during heavy rainfall, have been suppressed with aggressive partitioning of estate land.

Have alternative drainage systems been established? What about the National Land Drainage Agency which was intended “to take over the responsibility for the construction, cleaning and maintenance of the drainage systems across the country”. And the Local Authorities, the Ministry of Local Government and the Road Development Authority which “should ensure that drains are constructed to the desired standard as far as possible”, according to the scheme?

These are long standing matters that warrant expedition. It’s more than ever time to roll up sleeves and get to see what’s wrong in the field.

Note: This article was written for This Week News Mauritius on December 12, 2018

Leave a Reply