Transitioning into 2020

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There’s hardly any country in the developed world which hasn’t crossed into 2020 without some casserole being carried over from 2019. What is going to happen next is anybody’s guess

Many of us would recall the spell of stifling heat of December 2018 that seemed interminable, as it stretched into January 2019. As we approached 2020, a similar protracted heat wave had become so unbearable that everyone was complaining about it. It interfered with everything, and in particular rendered sound sleep practically impossible – this is perhaps the main complaint I heard from a number of people. Without a sound sleep one tends to become irritable for the rest of the day, and that is of course no good for conducting one’s normal activities. Still, we managed to survive, reaching the end of 2019 more or less intact, in one piece as it were!

Fortunately, this time round we were saved with the rains that came several days ahead of the new year. We all sighed with great relief as we enjoyed the freshness and coolness that they brought. However, the alteration of weather conditions in the Mascarenes region that were turning cyclonic soon started to make us apprehensive, fearful that they would cause disruption of the ongoing preparations for the end of year festivities. It seems that the gods that be sensed our unease, so that Calvinia – as the cyclone was subsequently named – decided to spare us, skirting the island about 90 km off the coast at Mahebourg and made its way further southwards.

Another big sigh of relief, especially for hardcore revellers as people went about completing what they had left unfinished, with frenzied crowds flooding shops, supermarkets, malls – you name it! And no need to mention the traffic snarls and congestion that inevitably frayed many a temper as patience was tested.

As if to give vent to the bottled up anxieties that had been building up from the previous weekend when bad weather was predicted, many went berserk on the stroke of midnight on 31st December – there was such an explosion of fireworks that not only the skies were aflame but the noise reached unprecedented decibel levels, such as had never been heard before. This was my own experience, as I was shocked out of my sleep, having gone to bed around 10 p.m. Afterwards when I met others they too confirmed that they had been overwhelmed by the loudest pétarade ever, and that had lasted for several minutes.

And I was to learn that veterinarians had their hands full dealing with dogs that had been traumatized as a result, displaying odd and wild behaviours, to the extent that some even suffered heart attacks! That’s the first time I have heard this about dogs – of course quite possible because of the biological characteristics they share with us, but still, to me an oddity. Come next December 31st, would citizens remember to show some sympathy and compassion to the canines? We’ll have to check with the vets, won’t we, to know if that happened.

However, our woes with the whims of the weather were not over, as in its wake Calvinia left cloud masses that continued to impact the island for another few days. As the sun came out for a couple of hours, steam rose and caused uncomfortable humidity. And then we had downpours, accompanied by lightning and thunder, with flood and water accumulation affecting well-known but also other regions at different times and days. Thus the whole country has been so thoroughly doused that major reservoirs have filled to capacity, and authorities have been having to manage distribution in certain places deprived of water because of technical reasons.

While we have been having some mini-deluges without, fortunately, any really major adverse impacts, out there in the sister country – because so many Mauritians have settled in Australia — they have been prey to ferocious bush fires that have burnt an area twice the size of Belgium, with at least 25 people killed and many more sustaining burns injuries. So many people were trapped ‘as is where is’ without any possibility of escape or the authorities being able to reach out to them as they watched, haplessly and in mute agony, their properties and vehicles burning, and the wildfires spreading. The Prime Minister had to call out 3000 reservists to help the thousands of fire fighters and volunteers who were overwhelmed. But people were reported to be angry with him because he took off to Hawaii for a vacation while South Australia was burning…

But besides humans, animals too have been very severely affected, especially kangaroos and koalas. Lucky were those that were able to escape. Some koalas suffering from burns were shown being fed water and their wounds dressed; just a few days ago a video that showed a whole family of koalas that had filled a car went viral. Nearly a third of the koala population is said to have been exterminated, of a total of about 450,000 animals that have died.

I thought that the iconic Sydney fireworks spectacle of New Year’s Eve would be cancelled. But it was given a go-ahead by the authorities. This looked like an irony to me, as I wondered how would the people who had been victims of the bush fires that were still raging take it. Maybe someday a survey might be carried out to find out what they felt, but meanwhile what else can we say save that this is the reality of existence – it’s made up of both light and shadows.

And it’s the same in all countries wherever catastrophes take place. People will come forward to supplement national responses, organize help in various ways, and duly express their solidarity and sympathies. But at the end of the day, they also have to get on with their lives, and carry on as much as possible with their routine, which also has its stresses and strains, highs and lows from which they need to have some escape as well. We too, especially those who have friends and relatives in Australia, are saddened and awed at the seemingly uncontrollable devastation that is taking place there, but except for praying we are powerless to do anything else.

There’s hardly any country in the developed world which hasn’t crossed into 2020 without some casserole being carried over from 2019 (e.g. pension reform in France, Brexiting in the UK), or some new event triggering uncertainty within and without, like the US forces killing a prominent general in Iran. What is going to happen next is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure not going to help the world become a better place.

Let us pray for our country and for the world.

* Published in print edition on 10 January 2020

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