Dodoland is undergoing a test these days. A massive, violent test. One which will determine the level of its physical resilience in the face of adversity. One which will determine whether our country was adequately prepared. The test will show if, over these few decades, we have been maintaining our standards or wallowing in the comfort of being lavishly praised by our local politicians whenever some obscure international index would rank us, a tiny island, on top of Africa. How flattering to the ego! Especially when foreigners having never set foot here would use some very narrow parameters to judge us islanders against continental criteria (but this is another issue). How will these parameters stand the test of Berguitta?
Like our roads: are their surfaces, materials and workmanship designed and constructed to resist such a downpour while sustaining traffic loading? Travelling at 110km/hr? Safely? And their reserves: have we developed a systematic approach to regularly lop off overgrown branches, de-silting of drains and hard shoulders and bracing of road-side furniture to avert preventable accidents? What about the various encroachments reducing road widths in the form of boundary walls, miscellaneous constructions, overgrown hedges – is there any improvement?
Like our windows: galvanized z-sections have fallen out of fashion and replaced by aluminium sections – all fabricated by artisans of widely variable ability (from the ISO-certified to the anba pie) since our last real cyclone, but have these been tested to sustain storm winds and their battering rains?
Like our solar water heating panels or tubes, whose popularity was propelled by well-wishing authorities with the only obsession of reducing electricity consumption, but forgetting that the process of fixation onto residential slabs has so far been made with a maximum of 4 rawlbolts of questionable grades and oblivious of wind loading acting sideways during intense winds?
Or the electric poles which were once cast iron sections (rel trin), but now in so-called treated pine, which will either snap in half from overloading by unplanned upgrading or uprooted due to insufficient anchorage into the ground during installation? Still resilient to vegetation overgrowth?
Or the massive billboards that have mushroomed everywhere but with poorly planned, designed and maintained structural components?
The list can go on and on, but one thing will remain: the damage that we will sustain will be a testimony of our collective torpor at all levels: authorities failing to invest in education, compliance and enforcement; regulators failing to actively enforce existing laws, investing in institutional framework or upgrading them to match the pace of technological innovations; but above all, our politicians who keep mingling in technical matters and fail to see beyond their narrow, short-sighted agendas, mainly due to their propensity to ‘protect’ (by way of poorly specified contracts) their rent-seeking sponsors of their electoral campaign. By ricochet you will have guessed that our collective safety and resilience have been jeopardised by funds which always seem to be lacking just at the time of preliminary investigations or during execution stage, resulting in massive oversight problems discovered in the long run: the glaring failures of Terre Rouge-Verdun, Pailles, Rivière des Anguilles Dam, New Airport Terminal, Bagatelle Dam (international indexers are blind to these, by the way) are all acute reminders which will soon be complemented with many more to be revealed by Berguitta’s gusts and downpours. Unless we invest in designing and building systems that are flexible to cater for extremes while maintaining serviceability at all times.
When wind will blow your dress up, you’d better have clean knickers…