Rain: When too much of a good thing is bad!

At the time I am writing now (Wednesday 10 February, Curepipe, 10.30 am), the rain which has been falling continuously since about 6 am seems to have abated a little. But this is Curepipe, and such calm in our native experience as Curepipians is an illusion. Most likely the break will be of short duration, and soon the rain will come back with renewed vigour. And, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, this will surely happen when one is just about to step out…

On Monday evening I had, as a matter of fact, to go out not too far, to get some work done on computer that I was not proficient enough to do myself (uploading some documents in a specific format). It was about 8.45 pm that I was driving back, and gosh! the rain was almost blinding, and I had to put the wiper on double speed to be able to see the road ahead. And there were gusts of wind too to add to what I can only describe — and I remember telling myself at the time – the ‘ferocity’ of the rain falling. And there was hardly any other car let alone persons on the road, so it was pretty scary to be in the midst of this inclement weather, and the darkness all around, despite being comfortable and safe in the car.

If it’s raining that heavily, unless you have to, it’s certainly better not to venture out. But then, one cannot help it if one gets caught as one is driving isn’t it. On the other hand, the decision of the authorities to close schools yesterday and today is no doubt the right thing to do. It spares our little and not so little pupils from getting soaked and having to sit through classes in wet shoes and socks or wet clothes, which would be most uncomfortable and expose them to the risk of catching cold. Of course, as a collateral their teachers – ooops! sorry, I mean educators! (what an odd appellation, in my view) – also enjoy the extra holiday.

At times like these, I have often wished I were a teacher too – but then when the term ‘educator’ was invented for this profession, I told myself ‘no way!’ I would not want to be labelled an educator. I’d rather remain a doctor. My anathema for this term was complete many years ago after I was asked in all seriousness by a lady trainee immigration officer at Heathrow Airport, ‘did you educate here?’ OMG! I thought then, what’s happening to Her Majesty’s language? Like OMG having become an accepted contraction for ‘Oh my God!’ courtesy mobile phones, the Internet, and social media. And here to stay.

Languages evolve of course, and only a few days ago the French authorities have decided to recast the spelling of some 2300 words in a new ‘ortografi’, to the dismay of many purists, and the disgust of many others for whom the loss of the ‘accent circonflexe’ in particular has tugged at the heartstrings. So much so indeed that they have responded most vehemently in writing, using the standard ‘orthographie’ and emphasizing many an accent and classical verb declinations, the vaunted and formidable ‘subjonctif’ being enthusiastically defended.

I am done with my educator prejudice and this digression, so we will get on with the excesses of nature.

Torrential rains have just been announced, and government offices ordered to close. Like I said, the illusion was short-lived, and I can only hope that in known areas at risk of flooding the people will have enough time to take the necessary precautions so as to avert any major damage. It has been raining daily since Saturday last, and so the ground is definitely saturated with water and there is bound to be flooding in several places if the warning about torrential rains does materialise.

When faced with weather like this, I always think back to the faraway times of our primal ancestors, when they had only caves to take shelter in, without any lighting, and wonder how on earth they managed to survive. And yet survive they did, otherwise we would not be here! And similarly for our forefathers who used to live in the thatched huts on sugar estates, what a mess the bare earth surroundings must have been during such periods of rain.

Not only does this excessive rain disrupt normal life, it also has other consequences in both the short and the long terms, such as the adverse impact on agriculture. There is loss of crops that leads to scarcity of food items with the inevitable rise in prices, the implacable law of supply and demand then coming into full play. And then we long for better days to come, meaning enough of rain, let’s now have the sun!

Again, we are happy for several days as we breathe a sigh of welcome relief from the wetness and the humidity, until it becomes too dry, and we can’t take the heat any more, perhaps drought sets in when the season becomes prolonged – as is happening in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia at present. Millions of people are facing famine, because crops have failed and cattle have died.

Too much of rain, of heat, of cold – none of them are desirable, what with their adverse effects on our day-to-day routine of life, and the impacts not only on the environment, infrastructure we have built up but also the wider general effects including on our health. Cold and heat waves lead to death of people everywhere, and excessive heat and rain invariably result in a surge of infections such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and so on.

Climate change and the phenomenon of El Nino are having a global impact. As we see the world over the unusual and irregular patterns of weather that they are responsible for are affecting all the continents, all categories of countries, from the small island states to the bigger nations, from the least developed to the very advanced ones. Even in the latter ones catastrophes cause havoc, despite their better preparedness and other facilities and resources.

For example, the weeklong snow blizzard on the eastern part of the US recently has been severely felt by the population, and there have been several deaths some of which are indeed very tragic. Such as the case of the woman who died with her young daughter in her car from inhaling exhaust gases that could not escape because the exhaust pipe got clogged with ice, and she had put the engine on for heating as they were stuck on a highway for several hours.

Fortunately in our country we do not really have such extremes of weather in terms of heat or cold. Of course we have cyclones, but we are well honed to cope with them given our warning system and the fact that the population is now very well aware about what to do to keep themselves secure and safe. The flash floods of a couple of years ago in Port Louis were an exception, and there is no saying that they may not happen again.

It’s nearing one p.m, and there is a little miracle: I do not see any torrential rain. In fact, it’s not raining at all. And goodness me, the sky is clearing! But wait – for all I know this may well be a temporary lull, I’d better not be too hopeful about it. Rather, wait and see, as there is little else I, or anybody – even the guys at the meteorological office – can do.

Natural phenomena, and the forces of nature, will ever overwhelm and overpower us, and all we can do is to devise ways of coping with them as best we can. And however smart our technologies and techniques become, they will only ever be able to go so far, and will never be able to provide 100% security. That is the reality we have to live with.

* Published in print edition on 12 February 2016

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