Qs & As: Suresh Boodhoo – Former Director of Meteorological Services
“Climatic conditions will definitely get worse before any improvement is felt, if ever”
Our guest this week is Suresh Boodhoo, former Director, Meteorological Services. He points out that climate has changed continuously from natural causes since the beginning of times, but that with the advent of the industrial revolution there has been an acceleration of changes which has resulted in Green House Gases and a consequential rise in the earth’s atmosphere. He says that we can trust our local experts when it comes to forecasting in relation to cyclones. The critical issue is how constructions are not being done taking into account local conditions, especially in the matter of drains for which he feels that there must be a national master plan, and he maintains that there is a rational way to go about all these problems.
* There are the myths and the facts about climate change. Deniers of climates change say it is a natural phenomenon that has been taking place for millions of years. The contrarian view taken by other scientists is that it is mostly a human-induced phenomenon, and therefore one that can be mitigated with the correct response. Which is which?
Climate has always been changing since the beginning of the universe after the big bang. Since that time the earth’s climate has been constantly changing and cooling, in a yo-yo pattern, to reach present-day global temperature. In between there have been ice-ages as evidenced by indepth studies of events and forages of the ice pack of the polar regions and in other parts of the globe. So far climate change was of natural causes. The last ice-age, which historically ended in 18th century, was in fact ‘killed’ by the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Monitoring of green house gases (GHG), which form a blanket around the earth atmosphere and which prevent it from cooling, has shown a steady increase in their concentrations. With an acceleration in industrial activities, therefore, and with increased burning of fossil fuel, global temperature started to increase till the present day. This increase was coupled with fossil fuel burning which has been driving all of human-related activities. This part of the change is attributed to human-induced change.
* If climate change is the new normal, do studies conducted so far suggest that it’s going to get worse day by day all over the world?
It IS getting worse. Even if all emissions of GHGs were to be halted immediately, climate change would continue as the lifetime of some of the gases already injected into the atmosphere spans over several decades. So it will definitely get worse before any improvement is felt, if ever.
It may be recalled that internationally there are immense efforts to contain climate change. The recently elected French President is bent upon saving the Paris Accord which has set norms of best practices to help curb GHG emission. The most palpable ways through which climate change is most felt are manifestations of changes in patterns of precipitation, temperature, sea-level rise, etc. Even the areas where our plants grow have changed and new plant varieties need to be introduced.
* What’s the evidence that climate change is already having an impact on Mauritius? What will it be like in the medium and long terms?
Our rainfall amount has definitely decreased from about 4500mm to 4000mm annually in the rainiest part of the island. Temperature trends in all the islands of the Republic show an increase. The pattern of our rainfall has changed. The sea breeze-induced rain which we used to experience till the nineties during the month of November and December has almost disappeared and given way to dry spells. Our cyclones on many occasions have intensified in record times as a result of surplus energy from a warmer sea, again on account of climate change. This trend is likely to continue for decades to come.
* What can we do with the resources and expertise available locally to mitigate the extremes of climate change? Do these solutions have to be complex and costly?
Solutions to problems existing in any country of the world are specific to that country. Imported expertise should not be the final solution. Our population is intelligent enough to understand the problem if it is presented clearly. But first the initiative should come from those who enunciate the country’s policy.
We should change our living habits, live within our means and in harmony with the climate, embark on an aggressive greening programme (not piecemeal), change our agricultural practices to more efficient ones. But most important of all, we should halt our maddening craze for putting more concrete all over the island.
* The Warning Center US Navy and Air Force Joint Typhoon has been predicting since the beginning of this week that tropical Cyclone Berguitta will bring “considerable damage” to shrubbery and trees – building roof materials, doors, etc. The local Met services have been less alarmist. To whom should we be listening to?
What the Warning Center US Navy and Air Force Joint Typhoon has predicted is nothing new to us. Every cyclone or extreme weather events that has swept the island has created havoc. The thing is that since we have not had a direct hit for several years, we have forgotten how vulnerable we are to these climatic conditions. So for our buildings, we have adopted more imported designs and have forgotten that these constructions may not resist cyclonic winds. Even nature may not withstand the strong gusts as trees and plants have grown without developing enough resistance.
The local Met Services has been right so far to give the advance warning they have given. We must trust our experts unless proven deficient in reasoning and knowledge.
* Cyclone Hollanda was the last tropical cyclone that hit Mauritius in 1994. That’s 24 years back. Do we know what tropical cyclones will be like in the new climate changed environment?
Mauritius is a tiny dot in the vast cyclone basin of the South Indian Ocean. Violent storms have been prowling our region every year. We simply have been lucky that they have been missing us. Remember Gamede in 2007 which although was stationary near St Brandon (where it claimed the lives of 16 fishermen), had induced cyclonic conditions over Mauritius , 350 km away, so much so that we had to issue a Class-3 warning. Earlier we had Dina and several others. There is no defined periodicity in cyclone formation. We simply have been luckier than Madagascar, which almost yearly experiences traumatising cyclonic hits.
* During every heavy rain episodes we are faced with flooding and blocked water ways. How best to contain the flooding?
Again the solution of flood control lies with our local experts. First we must adopt a serious attitude towards finding a solution. We need to eliminate the uncontrolled pattern of construction. Urban planning should be done in a more responsible way. It must be ensured that every building is put up according to approved plans. The coverage with concrete needs to be restricted to enable proper percolation of rain water in every household.
A national masterplan for drainage need to be devised and implemented. This will most certainly culminate in the design and construction of proper canals like the Pouce Canal which was built on purpose by the French during colonial times. And we must be really dedicated. For how on earth is it that we have not been able to solve the drainage issue in Flic en Flac?
We cannot go on constructing drains 8-10 inches wide. Computations of flood water can be achieved based on area and intensity of rain and the carrying capacity of drains deduced. And yes we should not forget to connect the drains among themselves!!
* Published in print edition on 19 January 2018