A recent report by the Global Commission on Adaptation shows that our world is shockingly unprepared to cope with the unavoidable consequences of the climate crisis. Unless we act, 100 million more people could be driven into poverty by 2030 and the number of people short of water could jump to five billion, causing unprecedented competition for resources, fueling conflict and migration, and driving hundreds of millions from their homes by 2050.
The most urgent priorities are building strong early warning systems, developing crops that can withstand droughts, restoring mangrove swamps to protect coastlines, investing in climate-ready infrastructure and strengthening epidemics preparedness.
This calls for an approach that brings together agriculture, environment, health, education, and infrastructure sectors.
Leave no-one behind
This is what we do at the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI). A partnership of 20 organizations committed to achieve the 2030 Global Goals, CADRI is a part of the UN-wide effort to leave no-one behind.
The CADRI partnership is an example of the operationalization of the UN System Development Reform. It is also an example of the instrumental role UNDP can play in facilitating services from various specialized agencies to governments.
Over the past decade our partnership has helped 32 countries identify where they need to invest in disaster risk reduction in every socio-economic sector. We can deploy multi-disciplinary teams that help governments conduct diagnosis of Disaster Risk Management systems and prioritize their investment.
In August 2019, we responded to a request from the Government of Mauritius to help identify what it takes to make the country stronger in the face of disasters. I was joined by 11 experts from FAO, IOM, OCHA, UNDP and WHO, as well as from the European Union, India, Israel and the NGO Map Action. In two weeks, we met with 55 different ministries, municipalities, as well as people from the private sector and civil society, and heard their views and recommendations.
Like most Small Island Developing States, Mauritius is extremely vulnerable to climate change and disasters due to its heavy reliance on tourism and transport infrastructure. When the Port of Mauritius is closed several days a month due to storm swells, the whole economy suffers. More erratic cyclone seasons also keep tourists away.
Investing in prevention and mitigation across socio-economic sectors
Mauritius is renowned for its investment in cyclone preparedness and its community emergency response, but the government is keenly aware of the need to invest in prevention and mitigation. The country is also exposed to environmental hazards from industrial pollution, toxic waste or fire.
Climate change is not the only contributing factor to disasters. Rapid unplanned urbanization and infrastructure development have increased the flash floods, putting people at greater risk of waterborne and skin diseases.
Not all Mauritians are equal in the face of climate change and disasters. Some, particularly those of African origin, including women-headed households and children, or migrants living in informal settlements, are more vulnerable to disaster.
That’s why in assessing how to invest in disaster risk reduction health, education and water and sanitation are just as important as tourism, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment.
A dual challenge
Like many middle income countries, Mauritius faces a dual structural transformation challenge: creating the conducive environment to maintain its competitiveness, and continue attract foreign direct investment, while at the same time enforcing a regulatory framework to protect its people and natural resources.
Government, the private sector and civil society all acknowledge that the coastal zone is of major importance to the tourism economy, as well as to people, culture and livelihoods. They also recognize that despite a strong legal framework, development continues to happen in risky zones and can even increase the impact of a disaster. One typical example is that since the decline of the sugar cane industry, the conversion of agricultural land and backfilling of wetland to develop the tourism and service economy has sometimes led to a destruction of the natural drainage system, which in turn contributed to an increase in flash floods.
The interviews also revealed that the lack of sewerage is one of the most pressing issues—only 29 percent of people have a sewage connection. This increases the risk of epidemics, especially during floods and storm surges.
Investing in resilient infrastructure
Held every 13th of October, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure and vulnerability. This year’s theme puts the spotlight on reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and avoiding disruption to basic services.
The CADRI team collected several recommendations in relation to building more resilient infrastructure in Mauritius. Among others, applying a spatial planning approach would ensure that social and physical infrastructure—drainage, sewage, roads—can keep up with the pace of development. The first step is to expand the use of geographic information systems across various ministries and sectors. Another practical way is to expand training opportunities for engineers in geo technical engineering, possibly through a scholarship programme with neighbouring countries.
Building on the findings and recommendations documented through our team’s assessment, CADRI will support the government and the UN country team in Mauritius as they continue to prioritize disaster risk reduction.