Mauritius is facing more frequent disasters and called upon the CADRI Partnership to help identify needed investment in disaster risk reduction across socio-economic sectors to protect its people and its economy.
A Paradise Island at risk
As most Small Island Developing States (SIDs), Mauritius is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and disasters due to its economy’s heavy reliance on tourism and transport infrastructure. Located at the tail of the Indian Ocean cyclone belt, the country’s exposure to cyclones and resulting storms surges, floods and torrential rains is increasing with climate change.
Rapid urbanization brings new disaster risk
But climate change is not the only risk driver. Rapid unplanned urbanization and infrastructure development have increased the occurrence of flash floods, causing destruction of housing, infrastructure and crops, and putting the population at risk of vector & water borne and skin diseases.
Not all Mauritians stand equal in the face of climate change and disasters
Some segments of the population, in particular Mauritians of African origin, and among them women headed households and children, are more vulnerable to disaster impact on their income and health status. They are more likely to live in informal settlements in hazard-exposed areas, they are more likely to be exposed to polluted water, they have less access to water and sanitation services.
Access to sewerage infrastructure and drainage systems are some of the most urgent issues to address to reduce disaster risk, with merely 29% of the population being connected to sewerage network on the island.
That’s why social sectors — such as health, education and water & sanitation — are equally important as productive sectors — such as tourism, agriculture, fishery and environment — when assessing the need for DRR investment.
This is what we do at the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI). A 20 organizations-strong partnership committed to support multi-sectoral approaches to reduce disaster and climate risks, CADRI is a part of the UN-wide effort to leave no one behind.
One multi-disciplinary team operationalizing the UN System development reform on the ground
Addressing disaster risk calls for an approach that brings together agriculture, environment, health, education, infrastructure sectors to find common solutions to withstand climate change and disaster impacts.
Responding to a Government request, the CADRI Partnership deployed a multi-disciplinary team composed of 7 UN experts from FAO, IOM, OCHA, UNDP and WHO, and 4 experts mobilized through UNDAC, UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit (JEU) & EU to deliver an integrated offer of services.
Welcoming the CADRI Partnership team
On 18 August, the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Center, Commander Servansing, and the UN Resident Coordinator Christine Umutoni, welcomed the CADRI team to Mauritius.
Taking stock of the growing exposure to disaster and climate risk, the government of Mauritius has called upon the CADRI Partnership to facilitate a diagnosis of national and local capacities to manage and reduce disaster risk across key socio-economic sectors.
The CADRI Team takes up its work
After a full day induction training on the CADRI methodology, the CADRI team composed of CADRI experts joined by Government and UN Country team experts was organized into three sub teams.
In the space of two weeks, we met with 55 actors from various ministries, municipalities, private sector and civil society to gather their views and recommendations on the country’s capacities to withstand disasters.
The Meteorological Services, producer of risk information
The Meteorological Services play a critical role in the production of risk information. The team reflected on recent progress such as the production of five day forecast tailor-made for farmers, and seasonal forecast applied to the management and use of water resources, be it for agriculture, hydro-power generation, water-storage and also management of flood risk.
Disasters threaten development, just as development creates disaster risk
Sugar cane has long been the primary export good of Mauritius. Over the past decades however, the share of sugar cane in GDP has decreased to merely 1%.
The conversion of agricultural land and back-filling of wetland to develop the tourism and service economy have disrupted the natural drainage system which contributed to increase the occurrence of flash floods.
The tourism sector under threat
Tourism, which became a central pillar of the economy, contributing 8,5% of GDP, is increasingly impacted by climate change — coral reefs are bleaching due to higher sea water temperatures and some of the beaches have lost more than 10 meters over the last decade as a result of coastal erosion.
After years of rapid tourism sector expansion on the coast, Mauritians started implementing measures to protect their coastal zone to strengthen the tourism sector resilience and protect people’s livelihoods. Concurrently hotels have invested in cyclone and tsunami preparedness with mandatory contingency and evacuation plans as well as regular simulation and drills.
Caught in the dilemma of structural transformation
Mauritius is an upper middle-income economy of 1.3 million inhabitants aspiring to reach high income economy status by developing the ocean economy and accelerating the pace of economic diversification.
Like many middle-income countries, Mauritius faces a dual structural transformation challenge: creating a conducive environment to maintain its competitiveness and continue attract Foreign Direct Investment, while at the same time enforcing a regulatory framework to protect its people, natural resource base, and the economy from the impact of climate change and disasters.
Resilient infrastructure calls for specialized skills
The mountainous region surrounding the village of Chamarel is faced with regular landslides resulting from increased precipitation causing soil instability. Building climate resilient infrastructure — road and bridges — is a key concern of the geotechnical engineering unit. The lack of specialized education and training in country and the resulting lack of skilled engineers in geotechnical engineering is a major impediment.
Out of Harm’s way: relocation strategies to reduce flood risk
The locality of Surinam, in the southern part of the main island, is regularly impacted by floods. Flood risk have increased as a direct consequence of illegal construction of housing and the lack of drainage infrastructure.
Relocation of populations is always a sensitive issue. Relocation strategies must include strong community engagement in the planning process, together with trust and confidence building measures, to be successful.
Leading the way in community-based disaster response
Mauritius built a strong network of Community Based Disaster Response Teams who are regularly trained on the first response measures to be taken in case of cyclone. To avoid the occupation of schools as shelters, the government established local community shelters equipped with first response equipment. Standard Operating Procedures need to be developed to make sure that the centers can cater for the differentiated needs of vulnerable groups.
Public Private Partnership to manage hazardous waste
The Ministry of the Environment signed a contract with the company Polyeco for the operation of a hazardous waste storage facility and the creation of a specialized quality control laboratory for the analysis of hazardous waste. Polyeco is a member of the United Nations Global Compact, the global initiative on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
UNDAC experts observe national Simulation Exercise (SIMEX)
Mauritius conducts regular simulation exercises. Our experts from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) network took part in an airplane crash simulation exercise to observe capacities in place to respond to disasters.
It was recommended to use a greater diversity of scenarios including, for instance, an epidemic SIMEX.
Rodrigues Island isolation makes it more vulnerable
Rodrigues, a small island 500km away from the main island, is vulnerable to cyclones, drought spell, floods and tsunamis. Its heavy reliance on subsistence farming and the large number of female-headed households contribute to this vulnerability.
GIS technology helps understand the social and physical complexities of disasters
The Ministry of Housing & Lands is the central government agency for GIS (geographic information system) application to land use planning. Applying a spatial planning approach would ensure that social and physical infrastructure — drainage, sewage, roads — can keep up with the pace of development. The first step is to expand capacities to use and apply GIS across various ministries and sectors.
Stronger epidemic surveillance systems
Taziana Mzozo, WHO found that Mauritius has a solid Disease Surveillance System. But the increasing number of tourists and migrant workers arrivals on the island can also increase the risk epidemic/pandemic outbreak. It was recommended to further clarify role division for the management of public health emergencies and establish a level 3 laboratory capacity.
Schools are getting ready for disaster
Significant progress was made in the education sector to reduce disaster risk on schools and children. DRR is integrated in the primary, secondary and tertiary school curriculum. Schools are integrated in the flood, tsunami and cyclone Early Warning System. Schools have emergency response plans and SOP for evacuation. A mapping of 46 schools located in flood prone areas was completed.
Preliminary findings are presented and discussed in a national consultation
Over 50 country stakeholders gathered to discuss the preliminary findings. Government, private sector and civil society actors all acknowledge that preservation of the coastal zone is of major importance to the tourism economy, as well as to the people culture and livelihoods. They also recognize that despite a strong legal framework, still development sometime continues to happen in risky zones. They discussed recommendations ranging from updating the institutional and policy framework with a stronger focus on prevention measures to including vulnerable groups in the design of preparedness and recovery plans.
Government and UN Resident bidding farewell to the CADRI Partnership team
In early 2020 the CADRI Partnership will support the Government and the UN Country Team in Mauritius articulate an actionable and sequenced plan to prioritize DRR actions in the key sectors identified.
The CADRI Partnership is supported by the Government of Luxembourg.
Photo credits: National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Mauritius, Government of Mauritius, Ministry of Education and Human Resources, Tertiary Education and Scientific Research, UNDP Mauritius, WHO Mauritius, Maiti Chagny, Xavier Coiffic & Ashim da Silva (Unsplash) and CADRI Partnership Mauritius Team.