Symposium focuses on the role of parliaments in natural disasters The Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Honorable Advocate Jacob Francis Nzwidamilimo Mudenda speaks at the end of a symposium during the 54th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum in Mauritius. - Photos: Moses Magadza

Moses Magadza recently in Port Louis, Mauritius

Escalating challenges posed by severe weather events in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region took centre stage during a symposium that took place at the 54th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum in Port Louis, Mauritius last week.

Honourable Mohammad Anwar Husnoo, Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius, chaired the symposium that drew Speakers of National Parliaments and Members of Parliament from the SADC Region under the theme: “The Role of Parliaments in Promoting Coordination for Enhanced Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery Planning in the SADC Region”.

The Vice PM addressed the pressing issues of rising sea levels, flash floods, heatwaves, droughts, and cyclones, emphasizing that these events are direct consequences of climate change and global warming.

“Cyclone Freddy, one of the longest cyclones in history, wreaked havoc earlier this year in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi, causing serious infrastructural damage and loss of lives,” noted Honorable Husnoo.

He warned that such extreme weather events, akin to Cyclone Idai in 2019, are poised to become more frequent in the years to come, demanding heightened preparedness and response strategies from SADC countries.

Addressing the delegates, Honorable Husnoo posed critical questions: “Are we, as countries in the SADC region, well-prepared and ready to face these calamities, which will occur almost every year in various forms?”

He stressed the inevitability of facing cyclones, droughts, heatwaves, and flash floods on an annual basis, urging a proactive stance.

Furthermore, the Vice PM outlined key challenges and recommendations for parliaments to effectively tackle the adverse impacts of severe weather conditions. Highlighting the role of parliamentarians, he underscored their significance in disaster risk reduction through legislative actions.

“MPs play a crucial role in disaster risk reduction by creating, reviewing, and enacting laws related to disaster risk reduction, including building codes, land use planning, and environmental regulation,” he stated.

He stressed the importance of parliamentary involvement in allocating funding for disaster preparedness and response, reinforcing the idea that disaster risk reduction is a multifaceted effort requiring legislative backing.

Honourable Husnoo drew attention to the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction (2015-2030), a commitment already embraced by several countries in the region. The framework aims to reduce the global disaster mortality rate, mitigate economic losses affecting local GDPs, and ensure countries are equipped with effective risk reduction strategies.

A team of experts was on hand to bring delegates up to speed with current and emerging issues related to natural disasters and to share lessons on how Mauritius had built resilience in this regard.

Mr. Aneerood Sookhareea, Officer of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC), shed light on key observations and recommendations crucial for bolstering disaster resilience.

Mr. Aneerood Sookhareea, Officer of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC).

Mr. Sookhareea commenced by revisiting a tragic incident a decade ago when unprecedented rainfall claimed 11 lives in Port Louis. Underscoring the vulnerability of the small island, he highlighted the pivotal role played by the government in implementing bold decisions, leading to the establishment of the Center in 2013.

Speaking on the evolution of disaster management since then, Mr. Sookhareea outlined a comprehensive approach involving preparedness, prevention, and response mechanisms. He pointed out significant milestones, including the establishment of the National Disaster Scheme in 2015, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act in 2016.

Highlighting the legal framework, Mr. Sookhareea underlined the importance of parliamentary support, outlining the roles defined by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act. He showcased the efficiency of the National Crisis Committee (NCC) in making timely decisions during crises, further emphasizing the decentralized approach at the local level through municipal and district councils.

He detailed the policy and strategic framework, aligning with global initiatives such as the Sendai Framework, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement. He accentuated the need for clear mandates and jurisdictions at various levels for effective disaster risk reduction.

Mr. Sookhareea provided insights into the functioning of the National Emergency Operation Command (NEOC), with a focus on proactive measures and a robust incident command system. He highlighted investments in technology, including satellite communication, ensuring continuous connectivity during emergencies.

Discussing activities undertaken, he cited community training programs, simulation exercises, and awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable areas. He also shared plans for a national multi-hazard emergency alert system, aligning with global commitments to cover the entire population by 2027.

Mr. Jacques Rudy Oh-Seng, a Senior Environment Officer, Ministry of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change in Mauritius shed light on the island nation’s efforts to combat climate change and mitigate natural disaster risks.

Mr. Jacques Rudy Oh-Seng, a Senior Environment Officer, Ministry of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, Department of Climate Change in Mauritius.

Mr. Oh-Seng highlighted the vulnerabilities of Mauritius, highlighting the impact of climate change on disaster risk. Key areas of concern include water scarcity, agriculture, tourism, fisheries, infrastructure, coastal zones, biodiversity, and health.

He said Mauritius has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, focusing on key sectors like green energy, electricity production, transport, industry, agriculture, land use, and forestry. Notably, adaptation remains a priority, with a focus on water management, agriculture, and infrastructure development.

To support these efforts, Mr. Oh-Seng underscored the importance of relevant legislation. Over the past few years, Mauritius has implemented various laws, including the Natural Disaster and Risk Management Act, Land Drainage Authority Act, and Climate Change Act, creating a comprehensive legal framework.

Financing plays a crucial role, with Mauritius estimating a need for $6.5 billion, $4.5 billion for adaptation and $2 billion for mitigation. The international community’s support is essential for the remaining 65%. Mr. Oh-Seng underscored the need for MPs to ensure adherence to National Environmental Strategies (N.E.S), track implementation, and allocate budgets.

Dr Prithiviraj Booneeady, Acting Director Mauritius Meteorological Services in Mauritius, also made a presentation during the symposium. He focused on the increasing challenges posed by climate-related hazards and the initiatives taken to address them.

Dr. Prithiviraj Booneeady, Acting Director Mauritius Meteorological Services in Mauritius.

He said Mauritius faces a range of disasters, as highlighted by a study indicating that, from January to October 2023, approximately 34 million people in the region were affected, with 15,700 lives lost. The hazards encompassed droughts, wildfires, storms, and flooding, impacting even the isolated island of Mauritius.

Over the past seven decades, Mauritius has witnessed a rise in temperature by 1.15 degrees Celsius and a significant decrease in rainfall by 260 mm. Sea levels are also increasing by 3 to 4 mm annually.

These changes contribute to altered rainfall patterns and increased frequency of extreme events, exemplified by the observation of 6-8 intense tropical cyclones, including the record-breaking rainfall of 330mm in a single day on November 7, 2023.

Notable meteorological events, such as Cyclone Batsirai, were closely monitored, pointing to the importance of advanced warning systems. While Mauritius was spared from the devastating impacts experienced by neighboring regions, Dr. Booneeady’s presentation showcased the storm surge model’s effectiveness in predicting potential impacts on coastal areas.

Dr.  Booneeady stressed the normalization of weather and climate extremes, urging preparedness as global warming continues. The human-induced increase in greenhouse gas emissions is identified as a key driver of climate change.

Acknowledging the growing risk, the Meteorological Services in Mauritius have undertaken several initiatives. These include the installation of an S-band radar, increased automatic weather stations for real-time observations, and adherence to international conventions like the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Dr. Booneeady’s presentation highlighted the significance of investing in weather observation and early warning systems, and cited a study that indicates a $1 investment leads to a $25 benefit. Key practices implemented by the Meteorological Services involve constant capacity building, regular review of early warning systems, and collaboration with disaster management authorities and service providers for effective communication.

He said the Meteorological Services aim to enhance observation capabilities, upgrade infrastructure, and improve modeling capacities.

In conclusion, Dr. Booneeady said the Meteorological Services in Mauritius remain proactive in the face of climate challenges, emphasizing the need for continuous improvement and resilience-building to safeguard the island nation from the impacts of an evolving climate.

In proposing a vote of thanks at the end of the symposium, the Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Honorable Advocate Jacob Francis Nzwidamilimo Mudenda, emphasized the importance of political will in responding to natural disasters.

“I think what is of importance is that the (symposium) has been chaired by one of the highest authorities of this land. It only demonstrates the commitment by Mauritius to ensure that this session and the other sessions that will follow have been taken very seriously by the authorities of the Republic of Mauritius,” he said.

Underscoring the importance of documentation and sharing of best practices, Advocate Mudenda enjoined the SADC PF Secretariat to ensure “the contributions from resource persons and various countries be put together into some booklet which we can always refer to benchmark among ourselves”.

 

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