Unprepared for climate change: Mauritius needs to go beyond treating the symptoms of environmental degradation
By Fabiola Monty
Flood risk and land use
According to past World Risk Reports, Mauritius has been ranked among the top 20 countries with the highest disaster risk for several years now. Its disaster risk profile by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) highlights that flooding is the second largest risk after cyclones, causing 20% of the direct economic losses associated with disasters. And most of these costs are due to impacts on the residential sector.
Behind these statistics lie unsustainable land use practices that are aggravating the vulnerability to disasters and that include the destruction and degradation of ecological systems, such as wetlands and the soil. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2017-2025 documents land use conversion, growing demand for land for development in coastal areas and backfilling as some of the factors threatening biodiversity of coastal, freshwater and marine environmentally sensitive areas and the ecosystem services that they provide. Wetland destruction and reduction in vegetation cover for example contributes to changes in hydrological cycles and stream flow, thus influencing the risk of flooding. The degradation of natural drainage systems and the misuse of artificial ones further exacerbates the risks.
Treating the cause is more urgent than treating the symptoms
It is widely recognised among different stakeholders that Mauritius is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and that there is a need to increase its adaptive capacity. But a sense of urgency is missing. Existing ecosystems that are our best allies on the road to resilience are still not given due consideration as key components of the solutions. Rather the contrary, they are often treated as disposable and replaceable infrastructure.
While resources are being used to plant trees and mangroves in some part of the country, there is often inaction from some key actors when important ecosystems are being destroyed or about to be destroyed in the name of economic development in other regions. There should be less room for these contradictions. Restoring degraded ecosystems and the services that they provide, such as flood regulation, is costly and not always implemented using the best practices. Tree planting is for example easily ‘marketed’ as a climate solution but not all projects are effective.