Agriculture Climate Community Development

Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) highly vulnerable to climate change


Mauritius is one of the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), that is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its smallness, remoteness and exposure to natural hazards.


This was revealed by Dharamraj Deenoo, the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Security, Environment and Sustainable Development in his presentation at the Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Dissemination Forum in Namibia running from the 1st to the 5th of July 2019.


He said the Republic of Mauritius is a small island developing state of about 2 040 km² in area, comprising the mainland Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, Tromelin, Cargados Carajos and the Chagos Archipelago.


The Republic’s ocean territory comprise an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of nearly 2.3 million km² as well as an Extended Continental Shelf of 396 000 km² managed jointly by Republic of Mauritius and Seychelles, outside the border of their respective EEZ


“Mauritus is ecologically fragile and economically vulnerable. In terms of climate change we have a hotter summer and a colder winter. Whilst we have not polluted, the entire African continent has produced around 2 percent in terms of the carbon emissions with Mauritius producing even less. However, we are likely to be highly impacted by pollution.


“The accelerated sea level rise is causing severe coastal degradation and salinisation. There is increased incidence of flash floods; we experience more violent cyclones; and a highly variable climate,” Deenoo said.


He said the special circumstances of SIDS were formally recognised in 1994 in the United Nations’ Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA), which was a multi-chapter programme of action for sustainable development in SIDS. By way of the BPOA and other initiatives, development institutions have paid significant attention to the sustainable development challenges of this group of states, many of which are also considered least developed countries (LDCs). One important by-product of this increase in attention since the 1970s has been the formation of a particular development discourse for SIDS that talks of them as ‘vulnerable’.


The official alluded to a number of health indicators in his country. According to the latest WHO data published in 2018, life expectancy in Mauritius for male is 71.6 while for female it is 78.1 while the latest WHO data published in 2017 show that Diabetes Mellitus Deaths in Mauritius reached 2,546 or 28.73% of total deaths.  The prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Mauritian population aged 20-74 years was 20.5%: 19.6% in men and 21.3% in women (2015).

Using the European body mass index (BMI) cut-points, the prevalence of obesity was 19.1%: 11.9% for men and 25.6% for women and the prevalence of overweight was 35.2%: 38.2% in men and 32.6% in women (2015). The prevalence of hypertension was 28.4%: 27.0% for women and 30.3% for men (2015). On the other hand, 52.8% Mauritian population (41.0% of women and 66.2% of men) were consuming alcohol. The number of newly detected HIV/AIDS cases among Mauritians was 368 in 2017 compared to 319 in 2016 and to 262 in 2015 with 28 cases of malaria, 13 cases of dengue and 3 cases of chikungunya,( all imported) were reported in 2017.


Regarding food security, there was an increase of mortality in poultry and other livestock. Noted was the increase in incidence of pests and crop diseases leading to a decrease in crop productivity, due to heat stress. Saltwater intrusion has also been affecting agricultural farms situated in certain low lying coastal zones. A projected reduction in rainfall and an increase in evapo-transpiration may lead to as much as 15 to 25% decline in agricultural production by 2050.


With a decrease in rainfall of 10 to 20 % and an increase in temperature of 2 0C, reductions in cane yield is expected to range from 34 to 48% while reductions in sugar yield is expected to range from 47 – 65 %. Frequent fish mortality suspected to be linked to climate change was observed in the near-shore. Freight for importation of food is affected by more intense cyclones.


According to the World Risk Report 2015, Mauritius is ranked as the 13th country with the highest disaster risk and 7th on the list of countries most exposed to natural hazards (UNU-EHS, 2015). The vulnerability is projected to increase impacting adversely on the socio-economic and environmental sectors.


There is an increase in occurrence of flash flood, damaging property and agriculture. Over the last 6 years, a number of flash floods have occurred affecting different localities including Port Louis, Piton, Fond du Sac, Cottage, and Mahebourg. The flash flood of 30 March 2013 in Port Louis caused one of the highest fatalities in recent times when eleven people lost their lives. There was an increase in frequency of vector borne diseases, particularly dengue. Properties, buildings and roads have been affected or damaged due to flooding, erosion and landslide.


A temperature rise of 0.74 to 1.1°C in the period 1998-2008 relative to 1951-1960 affects soil moisture and leads to a shift in agricultural zones; and causes heat stress, which lowers crop productivity and increases mortality in poultry and incidence of agricultural pests and crop diseases (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, 2012).


Increase in rainfall variability and drought periods, with an 8% decline in rainfall in the last 60 years, comparing 1998-2008 to1951-1960 leads to soil erosion, with higher risks of flooding and crop damage, and an overall decline in yields.


The increase in climate extremes damages crops and farm buildings, causing loss of animals, and increase in the leaching of plant nutrients and fertilizers to groundwater (GoM, 2012).


The sea level rise leads to the salinisation of water used for irrigation in coastal zones, and causes coastal flooding and loss of agricultural land around the coast.


As mitigation and adaptation measures, the flood events were one of the factors that led to the creation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC) which has been administratively operational since October 2013. Its mandate is to establish a strategic and coordinated approach to disaster management for Republic of Mauritius.


The Government of Mauritius enacted a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act in April 2016. The Act provides a legal framework for the prevention and reduction of the risk of disasters; the mitigation of the adverse impacts of disasters; disaster preparedness; effective response to disasters; and, management of post-disaster activities, including recovery and rehabilitation.

The country is using more and more renewable and non-polluting sources of energy. There was the establishment of the Land Drainage Authority under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office since 2018.


On the agricultural front, there is need to reduce vulnerability to climate change by increasing land productivity with sustainable practices. This will also lead to reduced volatility in production, and ensure stable revenues and access to domestic and foreign markets for sustainable and organic products.

Increasing the knowledge and use of sustainable land use practices and promoting the use of ecosystem services addresses ecological scarcity and reduces the loss of ecosystem services that are costly to replace. Breeding of crop varieties that are capable of adapting to climate change, and bringing technologies to farmers increases their resilience to climate change.

There is a number of schemes implemented, These include the Rain Water Harvesting Scheme; Sheltered Farming Scheme; Crop Nursery (Curing Scheme); Agricultural Calamities Solidarity Scheme; Family Farming Micro-Project Scheme; Bee keeping Scheme and the Goat Multiplier Farms Scheme, amongst others.


“Climate change will definitely impact on the access to water, and food security. We are not polluters per se, but we need to make sure that we adapt fast. One of the areas where we will suffer the brunt of climate change is with much more violent cyclones. The other part will be the erosion of the coast with the rising sea level. Whatever touches the coast means impacting the tourism industry. It also impacts the livelihoods of people especially for those who depend on the lagoons for fishing and other activities. We have seen really intense drought, and now we seeing lot of flash floods. Our preparedness, and our way of adapting and confronting this, will depend on how best we empower our own people,” Deenoo added.


About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende