We are indeed a lucky country. Shortly after the new government came in following the general elections on 10 December 2014, the skies seemed to open up and showered us with an almost continuous downpour for several days running. Before that we had been facing a quasi-drought situation, and the alarmingly low levels of water in our reservoirs and underground sites had led to fairly drastic cuts in water supply in several areas across the island: a scenario we are very familiar with.
In fact, there had been a number of demonstrations and protests by the public in the affected areas, and the CWA had a hard task explaining away and trying to ensure adequate supply to the aggrieved citizens.
The acuteness of the water situation was exacerbated when set against the persisting pre-elections campaign talk about electoral reform, a new presidential system, the metro leger, and the bringing in of yet another team of foreign experts to tackle the water problem when the recommendations of earlier reports had not even been implemented. It is believed that all this may have contributed to put the nail in the coffin of the incumbent government, which does not sound implausible.
So even as the Vire Mam wave led to the widely anticipated change of dispensation, nature chipped in to accompany it by an equally dramatic and welcome improvement of water availability to citizens previously deprived of the precious blue gold. As if this were not enough, here comes a tropical storm which, it appears, also followed a Vire Mam logic: instead of originating from the north-east of the island as is the usual pattern, it started in the opposite direction, the north-west! I do not personally remember about a cyclone being formed in that location before visiting us, there may have been but it is surely unusual, and I will leave it to the meteorological experts to enlighten us.
We had been squirming because of the torrid heat and humidity of the past several days. Fortunately cyclone Bansi has brought us copious amounts of rain, cooling down the air in the process, and what with winds of moderate strength there has been relatively little damage to speak of. However, this does not mean the end of our water woes, as the harvesting, storage, distribution and regulatory aspects (amongst others) of local water security have long-standing gaps which must be addressed as a matter of national urgency. That the government has identified this as the priority of priorities — a position which this paper had articulated before the elections — is indeed welcome news, and the population at large no doubt looks forward to the day when water shortage will, as in Singapore which we are constantly wishing to emulate, no longer be an issue.
Cyclone Bansi, like many previous ones, has proven to be a bounty of rain to the country as much as it has been a bonanza to school and college going students. Ouai, pena l’ecole! We were once students too, and know the excitement that such unplanned holidays bring to our hearts! Of course it’s a different story for parents, especially working ones who may have to make arrangements for the kids-at-home. Home helps if already available and grandparents come in handy in these emergency circumstances, but technology also assists these days: ipads, tablets and non-stop television programmes between them manage to keep the ‘holidayers’ off mischief (mostly). It is utopian to expect that they will study when the winds are howling outside and it is so cosy inside to indulge in leisure! I don’t think I am saying anything new here.
We really cannot complain much about the impact of cyclones in the island over the past few years, when we compare with what has happened in other countries where cyclones and storms, not to speak of flash floods and other earth-shaking natural catastrophes, have wrought so much of heart-wrenching inconvenience, damage to property and loss of lives. The Philippines come to mind, and even advanced countries such as North America. There, on the east coast stretching from New York through to Chicago and parts of Canada, sub-zero temperatures have led to such heavy snowfalls that normal life has been paralysed for days altogether, with power cuts and water shortage, not to speak of having to cope with lack of heating. I know at least one elderly couple settled in these parts who decided to escape to their tropical island for a few weeks and hope that things will have improved by the time they get back at the beginning of March.
Climate change is going to continue, and will require all our ingenuity to devise ways and means to deal with its multifarious impacts. The January 2015 issue of Scientific American carries an article about the hunt for planets better than earth for habitation, ‘superhabitable worlds.’ Astronomers have long dreamed about such planets where humans might want to emigrate – and Mars which is being explored more in depth has been eyed for such a possibility. But goodness me, how will we get there, and all seven billion of us! Let alone to planets in other solar systems… The article’s author notes that ‘Earth is past its prime, and the biosphere is nearing its end. All things considered, our planet is only marginally habitable.’ Leaves me to wonder if our prophets have foreseen these contingencies and shown a way forward for humanity…
Let us be happy with the little we have down below, rain (even if it’s courtesy cyclones!) alternating with shine, and no extremes for longer than we can support them. Our tiny dot of an island is, thank goodness, warmly habitable most of the time, and long may it remain so!
* Published in print edition on 16 January 2015