It is well known from the numerous tourists and visitors from around the world that the island state of Mauritius is an all inspiring place to be for the well versed holiday maker, with its blue and green eclectic lagoons and golden beaches that shine in an awesome bright gold and green and for the magical wonders of its pristine natural environment whether it be beaches or mountains or the unforgettable hotels and resorts that play wonder to this paradise ,that this island in the South West tropical Indian Ocean is a holiday dreamland to either those who have been on its shores and for those who are intending to visit. But beneath the glory and wonder that this island portrays in the various travel brochures and endless hotel reviews and tourism promotions, there is a side to Mauritius that many visitors may have not seen beyond the resorts and hotels that pepper this seemingly majestical island .If you take a closer look of the beaten track and out of your 5 star hotel.
Mauritius is a pleasure trove of white powder beaches and stunning oceanic scenery coupled with some of the world’s most prestigious hotels ,this island enjoys for the most part of any given year over 800,000 tourists per year ,with many holidaymakers mainly coming from Europe and regionally in Africa .But apart from the white powder beaches ,crystal clear waters and luxurious hotels ,the PR and tourism promotion that tour operators and travel agencies promote through the status quo of rhetorical marketing that tropical islands enjoy throughout the world including Mauritius ,venture out of the stereotypical lush and green pastures and full service orientated Mauritian resort and into the suburbs and villages and you may find another side to Mauritius that the travel brochure that was given to you at the travel agency with a nice smile and a bon voyage speech .Driving and then later and walking around Mauritius in the small towns and in the typical Mauritian villages and promenading along some non touristy beaches of the island you will start to see a clearer picture of what environmental effects of improper waste management have resulted in. Plastic bags strewn along side streets ,beer and local rum bottles covering some once iconic beaches ,dumped and discarded rubbish bags in there hundreds covering some near shore coastal areas ,paper and cigarette buts ,placed and laden full near bins and bins that were uncollected was ,and dumping of waste in residential areas or on the side of roads and streets .
Some villages that I visited in the most populated or concentrated areas of the island ,in the North West ,Rose Hill ,Roche Brunes and Bambous,had no visual waste management plan it seemed ,dumping in some way just in front of the home owners front door or next doors vacant plot of land and in a lot of cases in a new construction site down the street ,which happened to be the dumping of any type of domestic waste .By far it also seemed that dumping of domestic waste in any area that was close by and not an inconvenient chore was somehow exclusive to the island .I travelled by car to the capital Port Louis and in around its peripheral districts ,of the beaten track ,there I witnessed the repeated waste management problems reoccurring without any foresight to what I was going to see before I set off for the capital city. Whether it be side streets or in the main business hub of the tropical island city, again the same theme persisted ,bottles all over the road ,Sunday lunches and left overs from the night before ,rubbish bags next to bins and not in them of course ,partly used steel laid out over pathways and sometimes on roads ,itself which were busy with passing cars .Small hand held electrical appliances, refrigeration units,clocks,plastic waste paper bags,vegetables,children’s clothing ,beer cans and bottles, sheet metal large pipes, and more and more plastic ,and yes you can name the endless types of domestic waste ,and yes you name it all over a side road and a pedestrian walkway like it was the place to dump all of your unwanted goods and that would have been the central place to do it within the confines of your street that you live in, a solution to end all needs of a centralised area for dumping or for that matter urban waste management.
Closely correlated to this waste management problem was that of the offices and some commercial areas like Bel Village and Pailles in the northern districts of Port Louis had a “profuse amount of garbage “in front of their doorsteps or place of business and it laid there for weeks upon weeks as I drove past the same places nearly every day. Time and time again this was some type of systematic dumping of domestic waste was there for all to see, without me ever having to point it out to a passer-by so to speak. I then continued to places that were by in large part quite residential and that seemed to be “prosperous”or middle class to upper class in economic status terms. Judging by the aesthetics of the households and areas ,you would see a very well planned and nice looking homes with bright and nice new cars ,but even there existed close up next to these houses of reputable beauty ,a mass of dumping or land fill was perched next door ,in a stark contrast of sorts. This phenomena repeated itself in a lot of these affluent areas of the island and middle class sections of the population of residential areas, time and time once again I was a witness to this not so sporadic type of dumping which echoed a hint of ignorance or complacency within Mauritius or its people and at the same time a hint of a major issue in waste management policy.
As days went past ,i continued my trip out across to the east side of the island from Bel mar all the way down to the southern coastal city of Mahebourg ,along the way I had plenty of stops in the car intermittently to the show that was on with the discarded rubbish or solid waste and yet again I was faced with the same garbage and litter in alleyways piled up to a mountain, then plastic laid everywhere on coastal towns and seashores ,and yes the very thing that is not in your local travel agents brochure. It being so visual that it was quite an outstanding that this type of dumping was occurring in a normal and acceptable way, and to be honest it being so visual, it was not very pleasing to the eye .I then followed my map to the coastal town of Trou D'eau Douce, a small town but quite the one you might see in a tourist magazine, with a nice beach and a blue green lagoon at its doorstep. Here I went on the beach and as walked to the shoreline of this magnificent beach I paused and stood finally next to a villa type of resort ,i was pondering in my mind “maybe just maybe the typical tourist was happy and content to turn a blind eye to this proliferation of garbage and litter that lay by the wayside as they passed by in the Avis hire car and be fruitfully happy with residing in the comfort of the Five star hotel .It also goes to say ,is it the Mauritian people turning a blind eye as well and just accepting the overall situation as is ,or is it the Mauritian Governments agency ?
If you think of it in a holistic way it probably is a combination of poor waste management ,poor policy ,unawareness , ignorance of environmental education within the country ,most importantly this dangerous combination of “circumstances” has contributed to the visual and degenerative waste management problem in Mauritius .If this is the case then the country as a whole ,the people, and the government may have to take adequate and objective provisions and actions in order to circumvent this waste management issue .And contrary to popular belief that outside the hotel rooms and resorts of the country ,that there exists a vast and untouched heaven on earth paradise ,even though that this train of thought is reserved exclusively for the hotels and resorts .
Later on that week I visited the North East of the island ,famed by its bars and restaurants and public beaches ,i went to visit a well-known and global group of hotels ,at one of their hotels as i drove into the front entrance I saw that much garbage just outside the confines of the hotels premises, and to be sure I do not know how any holidaymaker staying in the rooms and looking outside a window would not have noticed the garbage and degradation just metres from the hotel room .The hotel itself was a Five star and so there it was on the other side of the “fence” there existed which was to me a “contrast of themes”, that of course if you were not facing beautiful beach front or stylish swimming pool or the tropical rum bars .If you happen to look at the evocative and picturesque postcards sold either in the numerous tourist souvenir shops of the island they do portray naturally a romantic and sublime perception of Mauritius and as also for the numerous postcards sent overseas at nearby Mauritian post offices ,with stunning views of beaches ,resorts and of the people ,places and culture all bundled into a nice “package” for you to dream of at your desk in Paris, London ,Rome and Munich and of course a host of other cities ,and countries visitors come from .
But for the glossy airline magazine that was stowed in front of you on board the plane or for the magazine that the travel agents Mauritius tourism promotion book, that you may have been given for free, was full of nice and inciting colourful pictures of the paradise island hidden in the Indian Ocean, but the book I received was quite a different type of publication altogether and I did not receive it from a travel agent!
According to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Mauritius “the collection, storage and disposal of industrial, commercial, and municipal waste is one of the major environmental problems facing Mauritius”. I visited Mauritius the first time 15 years ago ,and I can tell you that it was not the Mauritius that exists today in environmental terms, and certainly if you travel around the island back then it was quite rare to see any visible or impending waste management problem. Now for an island ,Mauritius has enjoyed over the past 10 years a prosperous and quite progressive economy ,with foreign investment by a lot of companies mainly from Europe with investment in infrastructure like roads and shopping malls and huge multinational companies bidding for various commercial contracts with the government and private sector industries, and a rapid growth in the tourism sector this small island state is increasingly developing its economy .There are more jobs ,more products to buy and more money in people’s pockets ,but in some ways which is typical of the developing world economies around the world there is an increasing need to be like the first world countries economically .whether through globalization ,competition or overall status, which is in turn is the “measurement of success” in the world we live in today. And with that brings an all-encompassing problem of consumption which may then equal that final result of a lot of waste. Through economic development of the country and as new industries were formed, Mauritius like many countries in the developing world that have had great economic progress may in some way forgotten about the environmental affairs and impacts that also developed at the same time as there countries prospered economically and with that maybe the degradation of waste management policy and overall waste management awareness, like where to dump domestic waste for example.
The Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States who so happens to be a Mauritian national as well, quoted “We urgently need access to effective and affordable technologies including recycling equipment before the issues of waste become critical”Jugdish Koonjul is a Permanent Ambassador to the UNESCO department Alliance of Small Island States. He has also warned that “the fact remains that unless you have ways of re-using and recycling rubbish it is difficult to know what to do with the materials such as plastics including bags, aluminium and paper”. With more and more hotel development being constructed around the island and with that more residential areas being built, the carrying capacity environmentally of the island is being put to an enormous strain, and indeed that will bring on more waste to pollute the glorious and dreamlike lagoons and sea surrounding Mauritius. And now for the tourist leaving there superb confines of their luxury resort rooms ,and then taking a nice and pleasant wonder into the sea ,whether it be snorkelling ,scuba diving or various water sports activities that tourists engage in on their tropical getaway destinations ,dipping into that crystal clear fluid water of Mauritius ,they may see more than what was expected or bargained for ,and in a negative way that is with already evidence to suggest visually that floating debris that has come from improper land based waste management systems, or lack thereof. With over 850,000 tourists and visitors alike coming to Mauritian shores ever year ,and that figure is likely to grow in size, for the European tourist bathing in the warm and tropical Mauritian sun ,armed with a pinna colada ,or a beer or two, or from ever which ever part of the world they hail from ,the stereotypical Mauritian beaches and five star status hotels with their lush open lagoons right in front of their doorsteps may be in a lot of danger from degradation of waste and so much for the “attraction “of the holiday maker to come here to spend there well earn money for the annual family holiday or the newlyweds honeymoon. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program -UNEP Mr Klaus Toepfer “that islands in the Indian Ocean handling solid wastes from industry ,households and tourism is emerging as another issue with which they need advice and help. Such wastes are not unsightly and also a threat to wildlife, they can also contaminate rivers and ground waters as they slowly degrade”
Mauritius being the fast developing economy for what it is had many success in transforming its economy to allow the industries that dominated the country for many years like agriculture and fishing to become a financial and telecommunications hub regionally .Tourism has always been the mainstay of the economy ,but with the advent of globalization and competition between businesses either on a global scale or local ,this ultimately changed the way the environment was treated and managed ,and in respect to waste management ,change was drastic .Maybe this may be also why waste management is so visual in the country .Now it can be said that a lot of the visual garbage and litter scattered along the villages and towns are poor areas ,this may or may not be true ,but the fact does remain that Mauritians are enjoying one of the best periods economically and they are making more money than what they did back 30 years ago .With tourism being the biggest money earner for the economy currently ,the sector is now struggling to sustain the resources and processes by which the sea and lagoons provide, certainly coral reef systems which many holidaymakers come to snorkel, scuba dive ,glass bottom boat trips to see and enjoy or to whichever water sport activities tourists like to indulge in on tropical island destinations like that of Mauritius. It goes to say that Mauritius is so dependent on tourism that that will have to balance the economy and the marine environment sustainably and for that matter the natural environment as a whole, with increasing pressure to make money and do business this may be a challenge for the island state. Lagoon Bleu A NGO in Mauritius that initiates protection of the marine environment
stated that for the sea surrounding Mauritius “threats which hang the marine zone are mainly non recycled discharge and pollution from domestic waste and beach users”
Mauritius traditionally has been for over the last 30 years a tourism based economy and is still currently the largest pillar economically ,but in this time different perceptions have been formed and attitudes have evolved with Mauritian people and the Mauritian government and certainly towards waste management have undoubtedly changed over time, as financial prosperity is now the status quo and that more is better through this consumer idealism ,it has taken precedence over the natural environment. Again quite typical of a transient economy like that of Mauritius with a rapidly developing economy which has brought about a considerable change in the volume and composition of waste ,that with the various sectors of the economy ,has had a great human impact on the environment, by far and large the situation environmentally and the visual impact that it has created on this paradise island is quite substantial .In one report by the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Mauritius it suggested “that the increase in the economic development has changed the lifestyle and consumption pattern of the population” .Maybe that the benefits of economic freedom and prosperity out way the costs of environmental degradation in Mauritius ,now it may be said in terms of social and environmental cost Mauritius has by far done that ,if the fact still remains Mauritius does not become objective in solving their waste management problem ,then it will not be truly able to count the cost of environmental change ,Mauritius has to then consider if there is a hidden cost that may well affect the tourism sector ,one which the country relies heavily upon. I another report commissioned by the UNDP-United Nations Development Fund said “rising standards of living have also been accompanied by an increased demand for energy resources and greater generation of waste”.
By far and large the factor remains high on the scale of waste management issues in Mauritius .Many cities in the country do not have the capacity to deal with large amounts of solid and for that matter industrial waste that is generated daily .It can also be said that in a lot of developing economies like Mauritius itself ,consumption is a priority and a privilege which in turns sustains the developing economy ,unlike economically rich countries that are either rich in natural resources or service orientated economies ,much of which these countries and that of its citizens are in economically speaking that is, first world economies.
The Government of Mauritius has embarked on future plans to develop the tourism and finance sector in order to “boost” its economy more rapidly and extensively through various campaigns and promotions to up its tourist intake to 2 million per year by the year 2020, and to have the consumerism playground of a 24/7 retail economy with a Duty Free Island slogan added to the “package” as well. But yet at the same time have created an Environmental Workshop Program ,called Maurice Ile Durable (MID),translated to English –Mauritius Durable Island .The program assesses environmental impacts through working groups ,with close consultation and collaboration of NGO’S , private sector and Mauritian Government to create a 10 year action plan ,which includes current waste management policy amongst other “themes “that the MID project is currently working upon, including air pollution, energy consumption, and environmental advocacy and education to name a few. But it goes to say that 2 million tourists, a 24/7 economy and a “duty free island” promotion is certainly going to put a lot of strain and have plenty of impact on waste and that of waste management .As the totality of consumerism will bring about more waste and more problems to handle, and having said that it may become “to hot to handle”. A challenge that lies ahead for the island republic is also can it be handled effectively with its current infrastructure?
As the country continues to expand economically, and with rapid globalization in developing countries, urbanization and investment continue in construction and that of the tourism sector, solid waste is becoming a major and persistent problem to public health and environmental sustainability in coastal inner suburban areas. In a lot of places poor visual appearance is not uncommon, this alone may have some profound negative impacts on tourist visits and of foreign investment in the economy. As the plan to go the 24/ 7 may be in a large part a fantasy if ever foreign investment were to pull out of the country. As Mauritius is eager to grow its economy through its tourism and finance sector, with an overall consumer focused economy based on its 24/7 principle, will Mauritius be able to meet the demands of environmental sustainability at the same time waste management at the same time?. Will they be able to attract tourists to the island with this problem in there “backyards “Indeed many challenges do lie ahead in waste management policy ,handling and infrastructure. And as for the “ambitious” projections of future prosperity for the Mauritian economy, will that “fit into the puzzle” of environmental sustainability?
Recently the country hosted in early September 2011, over two days, the First International Forum on Waste Management, directed and headed by the University of Mauritius and in collaboration of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki in Greece. Scientists and researchers from 15 countries attended with the main point of discussion for solutions to waste management problems in transient and developing ecoconomies.The Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology, Rajesh Jeetah outlined at the conference the importance of minimising the negative impacts on waste disposal on the Mauritian environment. He stated “The sole efforts of the government to tackle solid waste management issues are insufficient to protect the environment. We need the participation and co-operation of various parties to ensure the success of this campaign”.
For present conditions to change and to evolve in terms of waste management problems and its effects, I can be said that a matter of urgency may be required now and in the future regarding its infrastructure to handle the problem .By this more money and more focus is needed to separate its economic progress or “dream” with that of its environmental sustainability issues. As Mauritius and other developing and transient economies grow in the basking sun of globalization, new challenges will have to be confronted as they emerge between the balance of making economic growth paramount versus the balance of ecological and environmental sustainability. The negative impacts of waste management may to come to a cross road at some point. And maybe if it does start to affect the tourism industry and emerging industries in Mauritius in a major way, then shock may be the cure, even though this would be a reactive measure and not a proactive one.
It may be one of perception and of fact that households in Mauritius having a low collection coverage of solid waste and to some extent irregular collection ,that this may be the root cause of waste management problems and issues .Dumping could just be that its citizens ,certainly the poorer sections of the population have nowhere else to dump there solid waste as collection is not anywhere in sight .But these are the symptoms poor infrastructure and governmental policy, the root cause probably lies in the very fact of poor infrastructure and governmental policy itself. And it goes to say that the very aspirations of boosting their economy through the various mediums in there economy over the next 10 years, may be the very thing that undermines the tourism sector, one which Mauritius cannot afford. They may have to be careful as they are already on “unstable” ground as waste management infrastructure, or lack of it gets“buried”into it.And for the transit of their economy from a tourism to a service economy, this will most inevitably take years to achieve, that is if ever the country does achieve it, and this takes a lot of time, and time they don’t have.
All and all the island is a dream land paradise that is for sure ,but only for the savvy tourist this is in the “world” of a highly commercial setting like that of Five star hotel or beach resort, but if ever there is a “resolution of sorts” in regards to waste management in Mauritius ,then can only be one “degradable” factor to set your eyes upon .To be frank maybe just stay in your Five star kit of a hotel and let time pass you by with a margarita in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other and lay back in your beach chair under a coconut tree ,as at the same time your dream beach and for that matter your dream island perishes amidst a environmental issue beginning to be managed.
It may be that your nearest travel agent in the future may have to reconsider the smiles and bon voyage speech before you board a plane to Mauritius, and give you a totally different travel brochure. That is to say if Mauritius remains a paradise for long?