Rory Walshe is a PhD student with the London Doctoral Training Partnership of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). He specialises in international disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and indigenous and traditional knowledge, particularly in developing countries and Small Island Developing States.
Thesis title: 'Déjà vu or jamais vu? How memory shapes response and recovery from tropical cyclones in the longue durée: a small island case study of communities and institutions from Mauritius, S.W Indian Ocean'
Tropical cyclones are a considerable threat to the people, economy and environment of Mauritius – with intense cyclones having an approximate return interval between eight to 15 years. However, Mauritius has not been hit by a large cyclone for a comparatively long time, and the vulnerability of the island is debated.
Critically, details regarding the impact of and response to past cyclones in Mauritian history is relatively scant and there is very little known about the role of memory in responses to cyclones, either from a current or historical standpoint. This research deploys a combination of rural community interviews with expert and policy stakeholder interviews and archive historical research.
These methods are combined to illustrate the past experience and impact of tropical cyclones in Mauritius. Equally important, this research seeks to illustrate the slowly changing patterns of responses and the role of cultural memory in disasters, for both rural communities and decision-making institutions – all of which act out over the long term: the longue durée.
The results deliver a chronology of cyclone experience across Mauritian history and uncover several repetitive patterns of responses, indicating that disaster response is strongly conditioned by memory (or forgetting) of past events. Results also reveal that cultural factors play a considerable role in shaping the experience and creation of disasters in memory.
Furthermore, institutional decisions made in the distant past (themselves shown to be shaped by memory) determine the experience of cyclones and vulnerability in Mauritius for many years after and are connected to the current state of vulnerability today. This research, therefore, has clear implications for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation policy both in Mauritius and for other small island developing states.
See Rory's research profile