By Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
The Republic of Mauritius, an island nation, experienced its latest flash floods since the last bad one in 2013. These floods resulted in the loss of lives and hefty bills for car insurers with over 3000 cars have been damaged.
Unfortunately, we will go through more climate-related traumas because, as an island nation, we are sorely ill-prepared, and we seem to be blithely oblivious to climate challenges, especially when one takes a look at our development trajectory.
There is an urgent need to factor in the resilience of our infrastructure, our adaptation strategy, and the use of appropriate technology to inform and educate our people for better awareness and preparedness. When we look at recent tragedies, we cannot and must not put everything on the back of a changing climate, although I am sure the temptation is great in order to absolve one of his or her responsibilities. Urgent measures need to be put in place to counteract this new reality and also address our vulnerabilities.
There is no doubt that we will experience more devastating cyclones, and they will take our economies back several decades.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the way we urbanise, the resilience of our infrastructure, and how ‘green’ we keep our buildings and landscapes will all underscore how well we adapt to a changing climate.
Locally and in many parts of the world, there is a high proclivity to cut down big swaths of forests, drain the ‘Ramsar-protected’ swamps, which are the lungs of the world; build bungalows on seafronts; sacrifice century-old trees in the name of ‘development’; and century-old drains, which have survived the test of time, are now increasingly seeped in cement!
In many surrounding islands, including Mauritius, buildings are seen popping up on the slopes of mountains. There’s also massive investment in infrastructure projects with no visibility on the ‘Environment Impact Assessments—EIA’ (absence of the Freedom of Information Act in Mauritius prevents the public from accessing these critical documents).
There’s also no visibility in the flood-prone zones locally, which implies that people will keep building in these regions with the surreal consequences we saw last week in Port Louis: cars piling up, flooded cemeteries reaching people’s homes, and people being carried away by the sheer force of the water.
It is becoming abundantly clear that climate-related events will recur, and we, as the human race, have no choice but to adapt to our new realities. Time and time again, the rhetoric of ‘saving the planet’ is mentioned. It has to be brought home to all of us that nature existed before our appearance 200,000 years ago and will do well after we have gone. So let us not be presumptuous enough to even think that we can ‘tame’ or ‘save the planet.’ Our rhetoric must be couched in the following language: ‘How we save ourselves in the light of the crisis we have unleashed!’ That would be more appropriate and much more in line with this truism that is facing us.
Part of our adaptation realities demands a culture of transparency, participatory leadership, promoting greater awareness among the general public on what’s at stake, and more importantly, accountability from those who we vote to decide on our behalf. They cannot suddenly go mum when they are questioned or pass the buck to technical staff, whose roles are often purely advisory, when things start going south. The personal and material losses for the general public are simply too painful to see when entire lifetime efforts and savings are washed away by the gushing waters.
I am a resident of a town called Quatre Bornes, which got badly affected by the recent floods. I am tempted to ask for this ‘confidential’ EIA report for the Quatre Bornes tram project so that we can be enlightened on the remedial actions going forward.
Maybe those who were at the helm in 2016 when the decision was taken to start this mega project can enlighten us! No?
But this is where “realpolitik” kicks in.
Those who were vociferously against this project during the electoral campaign when they were in opposition (that was before they switched sides and joined the winning party) are now its greatest defenders.
Some of those who actioned the decisions when in government are now in opposition and are expressing outsized aspirations for higher posts … hmm … at the next general elections??.
Transparency, Justice and Accountability are the virtues that the public demands What we certainly DO NOT need are empty rhetoric and promises … The survival of our children and grandchildren depends on it, and we have NO right to sacrifice their future through our inaction.
IPS UN Bureau