Transport Today and Tomorrow


The far-sighted National Development Strategy superbly integrated policies for land use and transport. Unfortunately, politicians ignored it and implemented half-baked projects in response to oligarchic lobbies and contemporary crises rather than future needs. This follows the sad precedent of dismantling Mauritius’ extensive railway network, which used to link not only Port Louis with the towns of Plaines Wilhems, but also Mahébourg, Souillac, Tamarin, Flic-en-Flac, Pamplemousses, Rivière du Rempart, Flacq and GRSE.

At that time, people preferred buses and sugar growers lorries as they were faster and more convenient but, as private car ownership has increased, our roads have become gridlocked during ever lengthening rush hours. A plethora of new roads is a reactive solution and the recent revival of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, re-routed through Bagatelle, seems intended to increase the value of a certain sugar estate’s holdings.

While travel time and convenience have been the dominant criteria for decision-making during the era of cheap oil, cost may soon prove to be the critical factor. Moreover, the total dependence of our transport system on imported fossil fuels would see it grind to a halt in the event of a supply disruption, caused, for example, by a US/Israeli war with Iran. Therefore, increasing both energy efficiency and self-sufficiency are vital for sustainable transport in Mauritius.

Eradicating Poverty

Absolute poverty in Mauritius can be eradicated in one generation. The problem is that families are locked in a poverty trap: disadvantaged children are poorly educated, their parents fail to encourage them and are inadequate role models, consequently the children grow up to be socially dysfunctional adults. In the past, interventions have concentrated on trying to make parents more responsible and placing their children in special schools such as Zone Education Prioritaire (ZEP). Re-educating parents is extremely difficult and any progress made with the children is undermined by their home environments.

We propose special schools for children from disadvantaged backgrounds where they will stay during the week as boarders. By ensuring that they remain within the school premises for at least five days per week, the cycle of parents passing on socially dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours will be interrupted, without breaking family bonds.

Saving Our Soils

There is an enormous hurdle to the sustainable use of our arable lands, whether for energy crops, food production or even reforestation: our agricultural activity over the last half-century has significantly reduced soil fertility. Before being cultivated, these lands had been self-sustaining, closed-cycle ecosystems for millions of years. The nutrients that vegetation extracted from the soil were returned to it through the decay of dead branches, leaves and fruit. CO2 from the atmosphere was incorporated into plant tissue, and this carbon was transferred to the soil through plant decay – soil humus levels were built up.

When these natural ecosystems were destroyed to make room for agriculture, these cycles were interrupted. However, until the 1950’s, farmers tried to duplicate these natural cycles, by adding carbon and multi-mineral-rich organic material (compost, guano) to the land they cultivated, as a replacement for what they were removing as crops. Only the desired plant part was removed from the field, the rest of the plant was re-incorporated into the soil.

Permaculture

Permaculture is the art and science of designing sustainable human communities that utilise integrated farming practices based on the principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems. Its key objectives are to bring food production closer to consumers, to restore soil fertility, and to cultivate land in ways that maximise long term productivity, while minimising artificial inputs and effort. Small-scale, land and energy-efficient, multi-crop systems replace large-scale, energy-consuming, extensive mono-crop ones. This approach avoids and reverses the enormous problems caused by modern industrial agriculture, such as habitat and species loss, soil degradation, erosion and salinity, as well as the unnecessary economic and environmental costs of transporting food over large distances.

Democratic Renewal


While some peoples are overthrowing dictators in favour of a democratic dream, traditional democracies are facing popular calls for fundamental reform. Representative democracy was widely adopted in the post-industrial revolution era and now the internet era is revealing its flaws. But what could replace it? Before redesigning the system, it is essential to reflect on the foundations of good governance.

Towards a New Legal Framework


The societal contract

Is it not time for society to mature beyond the egocentric concept of individualistic human rights and define a contract of reciprocal responsibilities between society and its individual members? In essence, this would mean that society has a set of responsibilities that define its duty to nurture and care for its individual members and individual members have a set of responsibilities that define their duty to contribute to and live in harmony with society.

Fuelling the Future

In January 1999, the world witnessed the end of a century of cheap oil. It then cost less than $20 per barrel. Few predicted it would reach the $100+ levels of today. Some are predicting $500 oil by 2020. This would be devastating for Mauritius, not only for tourism but for most of our industries and our quality of life. Well before this level is reached, it will be cost effective to convert coal into oil, as South Africa has done for decades, causing coal prices to increase too. Is it possible to avoid catastrophe and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels?

Is Coal Really King?


Few countries are at greater risk from man-made climate change than Mauritius. The Maldives may be more dependent on their beaches and Bangladesh on its agricultural land, but can we afford to lose either? Low lying countries and island states were quite rightly joining their voices at Rio+20 in 2012 to call for global agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions. So why is our government undermining the cause by repeatedly declaring its commitment to coal?

Green Leaf vs Black Coal

During MID week at the University of Mauritius in March 2009, Nissan presented its plan for our island to be the 7th nation in the world where the Leaf, their new electric car, would be available for sale. In February 2012, we became the first country in the southern hemisphere to have the vehicles delivered, so why does it appear that we might be the last place on earth where one is actually sold? Some say this is because the government cannot determine what import duty to levy on each car, but might this apparent confusion actually be the fruit of incoherent policies?

Say NO! to coal and YES! to what?

“BLACKOUTS!” This is the threat that some quarters are using to argue the case for more coal-fired electricity production, i.e. CT Power. Environmentalists and local residents are protesting against this but have yet to present viable alternatives. What is the real situation and do we have other options?

Future demand

Recently, peak demand for electricity reached 410MW – an increase of 90MW in 10 years, but 74MW less than the CEB was predicting in 2003. This has avoided the necessity of adding the equivalent of three quarters of CT Power’s 100MW capacity. Clearly the best option for generating electricity is not needing to in the first place. Can we do that?