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Mauritius Faces Flood Crisis by 2024: Environmental Wake-Up Call



Mauritius Faces Flood Crisis by 2024: Environmental Wake-Up Call
Nalini Burn - Image source: Defi Media

Environmental researcher and consultant, Nalini Burn provides a broad overview of the state of the environment in Mauritius following recent floods, particularly in Port Louis. “We did not anticipate that heavy rainfall and flash floods would become more frequent and intense, localized with global warming,” she said in the following interview, warning that “we are on track to becoming a water-scarce country.”

Our environment is sick due to our economic and political model, which combines centuries and more recent decades of physical, social, and cultural storms reflected in the waste in our harbor. You mention floods and controversies. This is one of our fundamental difficulties – quick analyses, positions leaning towards a single problem or cause that is not well understood.

Unfortunately, we have not learned to handle complexities and anticipate their dynamics: we react in the moment, we panic in emergencies, and we navigate blindly, solicited by other crises. Despite the numerous academic and technical studies available between crisis periods, their implementation by administrators and decision-makers leaves much to be desired.

We have failed to grasp the urgency of climate change, leading to increased risks and vulnerabilities to catastrophic disasters. We did not foresee that heavy rainfall and flash floods would become more frequent and intense due to global warming.

The engineering models of bridges and roads and drainage constructions did not anticipate such floods ten years after the last one. Policies, which are quick to point out the shortcomings of others (such as the 2013 government’s faults), have not prioritized sustainable infrastructure and water cycle management over the past two mandates, relying instead on populist slogans about round-the-clock drinking water at home.

However, a sustainable economic governance should consider water as a resource that permeates all sectors of the economy, including the environmental impacts of wastewater, surface water, and runoff.

We are moving from being a “water-stressed country” to a “water-scarce country” by December 2024. We will face drought and/or water shortages in our reservoirs, even though they and our groundwater are almost full.

Heavy rainfall does not necessarily lead to flooding, just as floods do not always result in fatalities. It is not just a matter of natural disasters, but also of human distress, physical and mental health, fears, anxieties, and the heavy material and financial damage that accompanies any catastrophe.

Colonial authorities not only cut through drains but also filled the sea, for example, to create the Company Garden, later the Bulk Sugar Terminal. There have been waves of settlement, starting with spatial segregation based on ethnicity and overlapping socioeconomic classes of migrants and refugees concentrated in marginal areas on difficult-to-cultivate slopes, in peripheral neighbourhoods of unhealthy habitats near marshes and dumps, docks that were once sources of employment and disease transmission.

We have impermeabilized this capital over the centuries and recent decades with increasing urbanisation and road infrastructure. There has been authorised disorder, a mismatch between these agglomerations and water, waste, and road connectivity infrastructure. Urban areas have been deforested and dried up, with no visible river or mountain reserves, which fortunately we now understand in a “ridge-to-reef” approach to water cycle management and soil conservation.

There have been significant relocations of Port Louis elites to Plaines Wilhems due to the railway and malaria and other waterborne diseases. However, we have only one port that handles all our imports and exports, as well as cruise ships. We aspire to be a maritime hub of all kinds, but there are limits to relocating Port Louis.

Nevertheless, much needs to be done to dematerialize economic administrative activities, both private and public, and avoid physical journeys to Port Louis or other centres, which are currently ongoing.

We can imagine creating spaces to establish a resilience device to address the topography of Port Louis using nature-based solutions. A study recommends designing underground basins at Champ de Mars, where, incidentally, races seem to be relocating for other reasons.

In conclusion, it is essential to move away from relying solely on GDP as the only development indicator and to abandon the hyper-centralization around the Prime Minister’s Office. We must engage in a macroeconomic framing concerned with social ecology and its structural imbalances.

It is time to take stock of the current state of our country on all levels and undertake a comprehensive evaluation to anticipate and steer our future development. This should be the first step in a national development strategy that has long been outdated and which our Minister of Land Use and Planning dismisses annually, despite only multiplying land transactions for tourism purposes.

The civil society should be part of these deliberative bodies alongside our representatives in a true parliamentary democracy, under a rule of law and sovereignty that incorporates all human rights into our Constitution and its derivations. This is a challenging and unavoidable task in light of both external and internal threats facing us.

Source: Defi Media

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