With the growing population and rising industrialisation, the exploitation of water resources has been a global issue today. As a result, many countries have turned water scarce. Mauritius is a country that faces seasonal water shortage, especially in the dry months, and has been taking measures to improve the situation. Shedding light on these, H.E. Mrs Santi Bai Hanoomanjee, GCSK, High Commissioner of the Republic of Mauritius in India interacted with K C Mishra of Elets News Network (ENN).
Give us an overview of Mauritius water sector. What are the major challenges and opportunities?
I wish to thank the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the Government of India and Elets Technomedia for organising the 2nd National Water and Sanitation Innovation Summit and for giving me the opportunity for this interview. Let me first of all put things in its right context regarding Mauritius. The country has a total area of 2,040 km2 and a population of about 1.2 million. The environment in Mauritius is typically tropical in the coastal regions with forests mainly in the mountains areas. On average, annual rainfall in Mauritius ranges from 900 mm on the coast to 1500 mm on the central plateau and it depends on its surface and ground water resources to cater for its water demand for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. Water is mobilized through direct off-take from rivers, reservoirs and borehole.
Although Mauritius is endowed with good rainfall, its temporal and spatial distribution gives rise to inadequate water resources, especially during the dry months of October to December, to meet the growing demand. Thus, the island experiences seasonal water scarcity.
Moreover, population growth, increasing irrigation requirements, growing industrial and commercial activities, changes in land-use practices and the impact of climate change are the major challenges to meet growing water demands in Mauritius.
With a view to coping with the increasing water demands, the government is planning to mobilize additional water resources to reach a sustainable water supply. Several strategies have been identified which include, the construction of new dams, enlargement and rehabilitation of existing dams, continuous exploitation of groundwater resources through the drilling of boreholes and pipe replacement to reduce losses in the potable water distribution system. By 2030, it is estimated that an additional volume of 128 Mm of water would be mobilized through the construction of new dams and increasing the capacity of existing ones.
The water sector of Mauritius comprises of different organizations which include the Central Water Authority (CWA), the Irrigation Authority (IA), the Central Electricity Board (CEB) and the Waste Water Management Authority (WMA) whose responsibilities cover mainly water and sanitation, surface and groundwater resources, irrigation and hydro-power generation. The Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities is the nodal organisation for the coordination of all activities related to water management.
Climate change and growing urbanisation is putting huge pressure on water demand and supply. How is Mauritius managing these for building a sustainable future?
Climate change presents unique challenges to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Mauritius because of their small geographical area, isolation and exposure. Rising temperatures and ensuing consequences such as frequent and prolonged droughts, flash floods, intense storms and changing rainfall patterns directly impact on SIDS. The growing urbanisation in the country and consequential change in land use is adding to the water stress.
With this in mind and in view of building a resilient future for the island in terms of water security, the government has been implementing various investment projects to cope with the increasing water demand. The government is thus adopting an integrated approach to the management of its water resources. The government is adopting a multi-pronged approach to water management framing well within the ambit of SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation for all).
The projects include the construction of new dams, rehabilitation of existing ones, pipe replacement to reduce losses and water-efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigations. The sewer networks coverage is also being increased in order to safeguard the environment and preserve the quality of the groundwater resources. The government is also taking appropriate catchment protection measures such as afforestation programs as well as continuous water quality surveillance.
Water conservation techniques such as rainwater harvesting are being encouraged to the population for non-potable use at the household level and also to planters and breeders. The general public is encouraged to adopt rooftop rainwater harvesting. Water-saving devices such as dual flush toilets and water-saving taps are being promoted among the citizens. However, the government is helping families in the low-income bracket with water tank grant scheme to alleviate these families in the dry season by having a water tank storage. The government provides grants/subsidies for the purchase of water tanks.
The government has also introduced the use of treated wastewater for irrigation purposes. Some hotels have set up desalination plants to meet their water demand due to water shortage in the distribution system, particularly during the dry spell.
Furthermore, various initiatives are being taken to sensitize the population at large in understanding and managing water resources.
How can Mauritius and India collaborate in the development of a Blue Economy for mutual benefit?
In view of the vast EEZ and extended continental shelf, the Blue Economy is high on the agenda of the government. Both Mauritius and India can collaborate for mutual benefit in this area as it has huge potential to promote economic growth, job creation and food security.
In view of its technical expertise and logistics capacity, India can assist Mauritius in maritime surveillance against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in its EEZ. Mauritius can also benefit from an Indian exploratory cruise in the region to develop a fish assessment framework in the EEZ of Mauritius in view of diversifying the sector. Technical expertise would be required to conduct an assessment of other maritime resources in the Mauritian waters.
Another area where Mauritius and India could collaborate is aquaculture. In this context, India can depute its experts to Mauritius to assist in the development of aquaculture projects.
With a view to enhancing management, conservation and protection of coastal and marine resources, the technical assistance of India would be required in the creation of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
India can also assist Mauritius in developing other sectors under the Blue Economy such as prospecting for minerals and hydrocarbon, development of marine biotechnology and harnessing renewable energy amongst others.
You are just about to finish one year in your current assignment in India. How has it been going so far?
Mauritius and India have over the years consolidated and strengthened the already special relations that exist between the two countries. While working in the same direction, I also wish to explore new avenues of cooperation that would be of mutual benefit to our two countries. In this context, I set my priorities to bring such collaboration to a new height and I had specific targets during the first year of my tenure.
Unfortunately, my first year in India has been marred by the ongoing COVID pandemic. Most of the diplomatic activities were brought to a halt and we had to operate in a very difficult and abnormal situation. I had to recalibrate my priorities and was busy handling the repatriation of Mauritius nationals who were stranded in India as a result of the closure of frontiers. Despite a turbulent year, I am happy that one of my main targets, namely the conclusion of the long-awaited Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) finally materialised last month after more than a decade long negotiations.
The agreement was signed during the official visit of the Hon’ble Dr Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs to Mauritius from 21 to 24 February 2021. The conclusion of this agreement will provide an institutional platform to facilitate greater flows of trade and improved cross border investment between India and Mauritius. It will also be a stepping stone in facilitating India’s access to Africa.
Another area where I will be focusing on is on AYUSH. Mauritius is very much inspired by India in promoting AYUSH as on alternative and preventive medicine. Mauritius will be looking forward to becoming a regional hub to promote AYUSH both among the anglophone and francophone African countries.