Osman Mahomed: “Irresponsible town planning and management have rendered Port Louis vulnerable in many ways”

Qs & As

Osman Mahomed shares his insights on Mauritius’ recurrent flooding issues, urban planning challenges, and environmental concerns. With his extensive background in urban development, he offers a critical perspective on the effectiveness of past initiatives and the way forward for sustainable development in Mauritius.

* The entire country was compelled to take an unexpected holiday on Monday due to the imminent risks of flooding caused by heavy rainfall throughout the day. Such forced holidays have become increasingly frequent in recent times. What does this pattern reveal about the adequacy of the government’s contingency plans for calamities and its effectiveness in managing crisis situations?

A brief response to your question: it’s not effective. However, it must be said that when the labour party left office in 2014, the foundation was laid for a different scenario.

I do recall that the very concept of disaster risk reduction emerged immediately after the flash floods of March 2013 at the Prime Minister’s Office when Navin Ramgoolam appointed British expert Mrs Venetia Bellers to kick-start the department. I got to know Venetia well because she started off her work at the office of the Maurice Ile Durable Commission, which I was then chairing.

Furthermore, the country could do better in as much as it is now equipped with a state-of-the-art radar which the country obtained from Japan following diplomatic efforts from former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam at Ticad V in Yokohama in 2013, which I also attended as member of the Mauritian delegation, as Executive Chairman of the Maurice Ile Durable Commission, on invitation of UNESCO.

* Billions have already been allocated for drainage works across the island, with additional funds earmarked for future projects. However, despite these investments, recurring flooding continues to affect property and, in some cases, endanger lives. Does this persistent issue suggest that both past and recent initiatives to mitigate flood risks in Mauritius have proven to be ineffective?

It is observed that many projects that are currently being implemented raise doubts in the minds of professionals and of the people, about their effectiveness. I take the example of my own constituency for a drain project of Rs 353 million along Raoul Rivet Street for which the inhabitants are even prepared to go to the extent of refusing such massive investment in their locality because they do not believe in the effectiveness of the project. In such situations social consultation would have helped. I must say once again that I have approached the authorities for more details but to no avail.

But on a different level, a thorough assessment of how come after investing so many billions of rupees in drain works, the country still suffers so much from inundation, is very much warranted.


* To be fair, floods, particularly flash floods, are occurring in various regions worldwide, including China, Uruguay, the USA, France, Brazil, Indonesia, and unexpectedly, even in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The main culprit is said to be climate change which is making it harder to predict the weather 22, although infrastructure vulnerabilities may be exacerbating the situation. What are your thoughts on this within the local context?

It is true to say that climate change is now a reality.

I flew through Dubai last week to attend the yearly meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi and I witnessed it all. I was compelled to stay in the plane for 16 hours for a flight of normally 6 hours because of the extreme weather conditions.

The situation in Dubai was chaotic even on the roads because the country is not equipped with extensive drain infrastructure given that it was not prone to such calamities before, unlike Mauritius which is a tropical island with cyclonic windows. The case of Dubai is therefore not comparable to ours because we always have to face cyclonic and rainy conditions.

* Regarding infrastructure vulnerabilities locally, there’s the pressing issue of implementing an effective town and country-planning programme with a view to optimizing our limited land resources and ensuring their sustainability. Despite occasional debates on the matter, successive governments seem to have neglected proactive measures concerning “l’aménagement du territoire”. Are vested interests obstructing the implementation of appropriate actions?

I have been canvassing for this issue on several occasions in parliament, namely during my intervention on the Town Planner’s Council Bill and through several parliamentary questions on the delay encountered by this government for the preparation of National Land Development Strategy, which is now way obsolete in as much as it’s supposed to me of a maximum of 10 years of age and it’s now 20. I do believe that this persistence of mine and my almost weekly parliamentary questions on the housing sector, which I follow passionately as former officer in charge of the Housing Unit of the ministry of Housing and Lands and former Managing Director of the NDHC, has earned me a second portfolio at the Labour Party, that of Housing and Land Administration in addition with Environment, which I follow together with the Hon. David.

* Port Louis’ location and disordered town planning may have exacerbated the capital’s vulnerability to climatic hazards, particularly floods. We understand that many residents are considering migrating to other urban areas or returning to their villages. What do you think the future holds for Port Louis?

Port Louis became the capital city of Mauritius because it had all the necessary attributes to be so. However irresponsible town planning and management has rendered it vulnerable in many ways.

I started ringing the alarm bell when I initiated a petition during my first mandate against this government’s action to convert green spaces with tarmac for parking purposes at the Champ de Mars. Reducing green spaces has made the situation worse. The passage of the metro line at ground level in the Caudan area has also made Port Louis more flood prone notwithstanding the investments in drain infrastructure being made upstream.

Not taking any action on human intervention in Soreze that had clogged the cut off drain there leading to massive destruction of road infrastructure is deemed criminal. I have written officially to the Municipal City Council of Port Louis immediately after the passage of cyclone Belal. I wonder what action has been taken. And then there are basic things that are not being done, that is cleaning, clearing and maintenance of the vital drainage network and waterways.

* Roshi Bhadain’s Heritage City project, advertised in 2016, ultimately failed for reasons that may not to this day be entirely clear. However, in hindsight, one could argue that the idea itself had merit. What are your thoughts on this?

I must say that I had canvassed against this project by organising a colloquium at the Port Louis Gymkhana which was attended by the leadership of the Mauritius Labour Party and some 1500 people. We were all against it.

The project subsequently fell apart in unclear circumstances as you mentioned. It proved us right on all counts. There were major sunk costs accrued to taxpayers.

* We understand that you and Ajay Gunness have taken over from where Xavier Duval left off in drafting the electoral manifesto for the Opposition alliance. Regarding the environment, significant concerns include the proliferation of smart cities, which could be exacerbating the island’s concrete sprawl, and the limited progress made in transitioning to renewable energy in the energy sector. What actions do you believe are necessary to address these issues?

It’s a huge responsibility indeed. We were being told all along that the alliance that we had was wasting a lot of time on discussing the modalities of the alliance and not enough on the manifesto per se, which is a major expectation from the population wanting a major change in the administration of the affairs of the country.

Now that there is more stability in our alliance, we are focusing on its preparation. Already I can tell you that there will be some announcements of the 1st of May rally in Port Louis for which I extend a warm invitation to one and all.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 April 2024

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