Heavy rains: drains, more drains…

We’ll have the same scenarios repeated adnauseam all over again, with more and more money going literally down the drain…

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Ever since cyclone Batsirai visited the country in January, bringing a humongous amount of rain of the kind that we had not witnessed for a long time, we have been battered frequently by no less heavy rains. The latest downpour started last Friday and continued through Saturday, disrupting normal life as it always does, and causing havoc with the schooling of children that puts stress on them as well as their parents.

As it is, one shudders while watching the scenes of swollen rivers and flooded residential areas, streets, cars being carried and floating in the muddy water. But what is more heart-rending is to see people whose yards and houses were suddenly overtaken by rapidly rising waters against which they were helpless. Chairs and sofas, tables, beds, and other furniture were soon standing in water if they hadn’t already been washed away and tossed helter-skelter outside as was seen in quite a few houses. Other personal belongings also met the same fate, or got damaged before they could be secured, such as the laptop of a student according to his mother who was explaining what had happened when a veritable wall of water came crashing into her home. 

There was hardly any part of the country that was spared. The situation seemed to be particularly dire in Fond du Sac, where women whose houses had been hit hard had heart–breaking stories to tell. For example, of a 6-month-old baby who had to be rushed to the neighboursso as to be safe, as the mother tried to save whatever she could.Furniture was strewn outside, in a bid to dry them in the meek sun that had come out. Scenes reminiscent of cyclones, no less – for me, iconic Carol of April 1960.

If I remember correctly, it was during the first mandate of the present regime that the Prime Minister paid a visit to Fond du Sac with a delegation after people had complained about the damage their houses had suffered during floods. The problem of inadequate drainage was raised, and a sum of about Rs 60 M was pledged for building drains. According to the witness accounts over the weekend, no drains had ever been built, and again this time round there was a ministerial visit with the promise of drain works to be completed in 24-36 months, that is 2-3 years – when the current mandate is due to be over. Is that a coincidence?

Clearly, there is a grave issue of implementation that has remained unresolved, and that needs to be addressed urgently. But again, only too naturally all the cries by the victims of the floods were harping on only one thing: drains, more drains, adequate drains! And local people must be heard when these are planned, a top-down approach will not do. There is something called folk wisdom, and the people’s knowledge and intuition are critical inputs that need to be factored into the equation and harmonized with expert recommendations. If this is not done, then we’ll have the same scenarios repeated adnauseam all over again, with more and more money going literally down the…drain.

The contribution of local knowledge is highlighted in an article in The Conversation of April 5, 2022: ‘Natural disasters hit disadvantaged people the hardest, but we can lessen the impact’ – a situation surely similar to ours, with vulnerable people mostly affected as we have seen. The article points out how ‘indigenous expertise is reducing bushfires in northern Australia. It’s time to consider similar approaches for other disasters’ and that ‘by collaborating with Indigenous ranger groups, we can make strategic fire and land management practices economically sustainable for traditional landowners.’

In devising future strategies to cope with our own natural disasters, we must be prepared to learn from the experience of others.

* * *

Who will win the Ukraine war?

Valeur du jour not even the most seasoned speculating experts will venture a guess. Only one thing is known for certain: who the losers are. It’s the people, in their majority Ukrainians. Officially about 5 million of them have already left the country, but unofficial estimates double this figure which does not reveal the tragic underlying truth: these are mostly women and children, because the menfolk have been left behind to fight.

The end result will be a lot of widows and orphans when – or perhaps if – the war gets over. With no decent home, or home at all for that matter, to go back to. For along with the fleeing of its populace, the regions where they ran away from now lie in ruins. Of course, many Russian soldiers, among whom those barely out of their teens, will also die. But what does that matter in a country used to despatching deemed adversaries to the gulag?

Then will march in the real winners: the mega contractors and builders of infrastructure. As commentator/analyst Michel Collonsaid in a French outlet, ‘l’OTAN pour la démocratie, c’est de la rigolade.’In the same programme, another commentator pointed out that the major targets in the war were the infrastructure, which will need rebuilding. On the other hand, arms sales by NATO countries to Ukraine have increased tremendously since the war began. And military budgets in several of these countries have been upped too. Naturally. There’s profit to be made. Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine can continue to dispute whose version of the massacres in the town of Bucha is the most believable one.

The Ukrainian president, Zellensky, has even taken the matter to the UN Security Council from the comfort of his bunker and, feeling indignant, has perhaps rightly said that if it cannot do anything, the UN body should be dissolved.

One must not forget the glaring hypocrisy of NATO members and the EU in this conflict, as many analysts have pointed out. While threatening countries which have nothing to do with the war in the sense that they never started it with sanctions and having the gall to profer sanctimonious lectures, the ugly truth is that during the month of March, when the war was already raging, who were the major buyers of Russian gas and oil? Of course, NATO countries. They did better still: they bought 15% more in March than they did in the previous month of February! And they will continue to buy Russian gas and oil which they cannot do without, apparently for at least another year.

Again, as Michel Collon noted, hasn’t it been said that the economy is but a continuation of war?

With due respect to president Zelensky, one must wonder whether some day in the near future when he looks at his ruined country and suffering people, he will ask himself whether he had been taken for a ride by more experienced hawks, whether he could have done otherwise and spared his country the devastation and his people the suffering?

Perhaps he should have paid attention to what Henry Kissinger, US secretary of State 1973-1977, wrote in a piece in Washington Post of 23 Feb 2022, ‘How the Ukraine crisis ends,’ which he begins with ‘Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation,’ and then pertinently asks ‘But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.’

Some extracts from that article will throw light on an alternative that could have been. ‘The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis.’

‘The West is largely Catholic, the East largely Russian Orthodox. The West speaks Ukrainian; the East speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other – as has been the pattern – would lead eventually to civil war or breakup.’

‘…the root of the problem lies in efforts by Ukrainian politicians to impose their will on recalcitrant parts of the country, first by one faction, then by the other…They represent the two wings of Ukraine and have not been willing to share power.’

‘For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.’ ‘Putin should come to realize that whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. Putin is a serious strategist…’

‘Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe. Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago, when it last came up.’

President Zelensky belatedly declared that Ukraine would not join NATO, after his bid to do so failed. The rest will be history…

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 April 2022

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