After a lapse of almost 15 years, Mauritius has faced a ruthless cyclone. Post Berguitta, it is time to evaluate our losses and at the same time, work on our weaknesses as well as prepare for any other natural calamities.
Specialist in Environment Health & Safety, Dooshyant Burrut analyses the situation and provides a vivid explanation on where Mauritius stands concerning natural calamity management. He has even provided some solutions to water accumulation.
What do you think of the ways the authorities managed the situation when Berguitta was hitting us?
Well..it’s like, « Après la mort la tisane » !!!! It’s now too late for the authorities to come on site and to find solutions on how to eradicate the crisis of blocked drains in Mauritius. Thanks to the poor know-how of the authorities, Mauritius became incapacitated for nearly two days. It is now that the authorities have decided to clean the blocked drains and bridges with the help of the Mauritius Police Force, especially the GIPM.
We can watch videos on social media about how the GIPM are cleaning the bridges without any protection. They were not even provided with appropriate protective equipment such as thick gloves, as there may be sharp objects among the debris. The Municipality should have taken appropriate measures for the cleaning of drains and bridges on a regular basis and not wait for a calamity to strike us and afterwards act upon it.
It is extremely shocking to see the GIPM diving and removing debris under bridges and that too, during stormy weather. It is not an easy task! It is crystal clear that lots of houses have been affected by this cyclone despite the authorities knowing which areas are prone to flooding.
What are the lessons to be derived from the aftermath of Berguitta?
First of all, we need to ensure that we have competent engineers before putting up a new building in any area. We should always think about water issues, that is, if ever there is flooding, how and where will the water be channeled? Soil testing is essential, so as to ensure that buildings are not constructed near areas that may be easily flooded.
The Municipality should see to it that their teams are on site regularly and that all drains and bridges are cleaned and we should not wait for the last minute to conduct some work. Those trees, which seem to be a danger on roads, should be removed by the RDA.
It is clear that bridges in Mauritius have not been constructed as per the norms and this is the reason why we have flooding in Mauritius.
Is Mauritius ready to face natural disasters?
Not at all! Berguitta navigated in the vicinity of Mauritius and it looks like a Tsunami has struck us. Most of the bridges were submerged and even concrete walls fell down. A few houses were damaged while others were flooded. The reason behind these atrocities is blocked drains.
Mauritius will be able to face natural calamities only if the drains are well constructed and maintained. You may have the best design drains but if these are not taken care of, then it’s of no use. Engineers should provide professional advice on how to design drains to prevent water accumulation.
Do you share the view that the wrong approach to constructing houses has caused water accumulations?
Yes, some houses have been built in areas prone to water accumulations or close to a river. These people should have taken advice from their District Councils before constructing their houses.
We have also noticed that people residing near rivers are those who will throw all their garbage in that waterway and in the long run, the accumulated wastes block the smooth running of the river. Permits should never be issued to those who are planning to build near rivers or bridges.
I have seen houses whereby they don’t even have a proper drain and all the water from the roof exit directly into the house.
Since the floods of March 2013, are you satisfied with the construction of drains in risk areas?
Changes were brought only at Canal Dayot but the issue has not been resolved 100%. Caudan underground was flooded and people were killed, but have you seen any changes in that area? Has the government proposed a new solution for that problem?
I can see that the underground is operating normally and we even have a small shop in there. If torrential rains and flash floods hit us again, Mauritius will face the same situation as in March 2013 because nothing in terms of reconstructing our drains has been done. The same problems occur repeatedly.
The east of Mauritius is always flooded during torrential rains and if you ask me what has been done so far, I will say ‘nothing’. It is heart breaking to see that schools are closed during rainy days and this is not acceptable. It should be noted that flooding has a direct impact on the economy of Mauritius, especially the tourism.
Each heavy rainfall brings in a load of refugees and most of them are squatters. In such a situation, what should be done?
We sympathize with those squatters. Some can’t work as they have serious medical problems and it is not easy to get a job. Maybe an NHDC house is the best option for them.
The State has built houses on marshlands and whenever there are heavy rains, there is a need to rescue the occupants. What do you think of such a quandary?
This is just showing off to the population that the government is putting up mammoth endeavors and in this context, it cares deeply for them. I wonder how such a decision was given for constructing these houses.
Do individual houses meet health and safety standards?
Not all houses respect the safety and health norms. For instance, if you have a drain, you should ensure that this is cleaned regularly because in the long run, there may be branches or leaves stuck in the drain. This will prevent water from flowing freely.
We should also take care of our roofs. Not all houses have water pipes to drain the water from the roof or if they have, it may have been damaged. We should always ensure that the water is completely drained so as to avoid leaking and subsequently the house being flooded.
During cyclonic weather, even in class 3, some employers do provide transport to go and pick up their employees. Isn’t there any potential danger?
Yes, it is a serious danger for the employees. I have a question: Is there any safety on the road? We have seen how many roads were blocked due to falling trees; even our Prime Minister himself was victim of a fallen tree at Olivia while doing site visits across Mauritius.
He was smart for having chosen to travel in a BMW X5, as the risk of losing one’s life is negligible in such a SUV. Another question is: Will the employer provide safe cars such as BMWs to pick up his employees? The answer is a big NO!!! I know about companies that rented taxis for their employees whose offices are in Ebène, as their clients are in America. The employer may claim that the building is safe but there can be risks involved.
From picking up the employees to the place of work, anything can happen on the way. I am happy that some employers provide the flexibility to work at home but due to electrical failure or house flooding, they may have to come to their offices. I have learned that some employees in Ebène spent more than 24 hours in their workplace during the class 3 warning and for me, this is totally unreasonable. Sleeping bags were provided but they had to sleep on the floor, which is not easy.
This can result in neck and bodily pains. Some were even worried about their kids at home and this can be psychologically devastating for a person. Therefore, the employee who is working during a cyclone warning class 3 will not be able to be 100 % productive. Even if the company is providing food, is it the same food as served at home or is it only noodles, corned mutton, biscuits and water?
We can’t put the lives of employees at risk. If there is a cyclone, the employer should inform its American counterparts that the business will have to be closed until further notice. We should also ask whether the employer has made arrangements for their employees in case a fire breaks out or if someone is sick during a class 3 warning, and if there is any first aider or fire warden on site.
I hope employers will come up with more innovative ideas, as no one would like to risk their lives and come to work during cyclone warning class 3, despite being written in their contract of employment that they will be paid three times their daily rate during a class 3 warning. Last but not the least, we should ask the employers whether they have sleeping rooms prepared for warning class 3 or above. If not, should employees sleep in meeting rooms or even under the desks?
Is it not the right time to have all the electric cables underground, thus avoiding that pylons fall at the slightest cyclone?
This is a great idea. We have seen houses in Mauritius already applying the system of underground electric cables. I think the government should change all the electric poles and convert them to underground cables. This is a costly but safe measure. I have seen how CEB workers deal with broken electric poles in the stormy weather. We are hoping to hear about a change from the Government.