The Tragic Flood in Port Louis
By Paramanund Soobarah
I was watching the BBC’s news coverage, on Sunday evening, of the recent tragic events in Port Louis, wherein they showed some of the images of the flood for about a minute or two; the picture of the car floating like a boat around a tree was very popular with both the BBC and CNN.
But the BBC images were accompanied by a picture of the current leader of the Opposition (who knows him around the world anyway?). It could have been any Tom, Dick or Harry!), accompanied by some most incredible words. I did not actually record the words but I am absolutely certain of their intent: the government had been caught unprepared even though the Prime Minister had previously acknowledged that the forces of global climate change were at work! How low can the BBC sink, to be taking sides in our internal partisan politics in such a blatant manner in such tragic circumstances?
In which country of which planet in the whole universe has there been devised any system that will provide pinpoint accuracy for the sort of cloudburst that drenched Port Louis on Saturday, in spite of all the knowledge about climate change of all countries put together?
Does the BBC know that Mauritius is a pinpoint size island in the vast Indian Ocean, and Port Louis itself needs a microscope to locate it on the map? It is easy enough to say that a typhoon will pass over the Philippines or Eastern China, over the Korean Peninsula or Southern Japan, or that a hurricane will pass over Florida or Eastern United States. Does the BBC remember that fateful day of 1987 when it confirmed with absolute certainty that there would be no hurricane in England on that day and yet within a couple of hours Seven Oaks became Two Oaks, the Kew Gardens were flattened and most of the trees in Southern England were uprooted? Was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held responsible for these events by the media – in spite of the fact that Bracknell was then one of two (along with Washington) World Weather Computing Centres designated by the World Meterological Organization?
The exact location of the meteorological phenomenon of Saturday last could not in any way be forecast with more accuracy than what the Americans adopt when announcing that there will be tornados in Texas or Oklahoma in certain stretches of time. They can never say that some tornado will pass within half a mile of any landmark. Even so I am sure our own Met Office would have forecast with greater accuracy what would follow the passage of Katrina in 2005 or of Sandy in 2012. Enough of this bashing of our services!
All that one could say on Saturday was that it was likely to rain over an area of the Indian Ocean known as the Mascarenes. The raised ground levels at the entrances of underpasses to Caudan were based on received wisdom of the worst-case scenarios of rain water levels. Can anybody say for certain to what height the entrances to underpasses and underground parkings must be protected in future? We are located in a tsunami prone area. Should the entire northern half of the country be abandoned? In fact, a 30-ft tsunami will destroy not just the North, but also most of Port Louis, of Flacq and of Black River. That the airport could not be moved to the North is a blessing in disguise.
And what about landslides? What’s to stop the whole of Floreal being buried under sliding ground from Trou-aux-Cerfs? If we catalogue all the areas of the country where landslides could occur, much of it would have to be abandoned.
In the matter of weather forecasting, the public should know that the main World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Regional Centre is located in Reunion, and NOT in Mauritius. It is not therefore surprising that they put out warnings before our own station does. Increasing our radar coverage will not increase our forecasting capabilities to a very significant extent. The satellite pictures shown on the BBC and CNN do not cover the Indian Ocean; the African region pictures stop at the east coast of Madagascar. The Asian region pictures stop at about the level of the Maldives. What we require for our purposes are pictures of cloud formations and their movements stretching East-West between the Mozambique Channel and the Cocos Islands, and North-South between the Equator and the South Pole.
The choice of Reunion over Mauritius as the regional weather centre by the WMO is very painful to me and, I presume, to all patriots. Since the departure of SSR from the national scene, Mauritius has dipped to a very low level in the eyes of the International Organisations.
* Published in print edition on 5 April 2013