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Helices of disaster memory: How forgetting and remembering influence tropical cyclone response in Mauritius

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Kelman, Ilan 


Tropical cyclones have had a considerable impact on Mauritius. Large cyclones are relatively rare, and in popular imagination are thought to hit Mauritius every 15 years. Yet it has been over 25 years since the last cyclone widely considered as ‘significant’. Critically, there is little known about the role of memory in responses to cyclones ¬and details regarding responses to past cyclones in Mauritian history are scant.

This article examines past experiences and impacts of cyclones in Mauritius, as well as contemporary perceptions of cyclone vulnerability and memories of historical cyclones. The analysis draws on both community interviews and archival research conducted in Mauritius. The analysis takes a longue durée approach and combines examination of both event and process with historical discourses in an effort to uncover the long-standing and slowly changing relationships between people and extreme events.

The results reveal a number of repetitive patterns of responses that act out over the long term and repeat for many of the largest cyclones, indicating that tropical cyclone impact and recovery in Mauritius is strongly conditioned by complex, cultural, and place based memory (and forgetting). While these patterns could be characterised as cycles, the research instead presents a concept of ‘helices’ as a new conceptualisation of long term disaster memory patterns. This research is part of a growing literature arguing for the need to account for the historical processes fundamental to understanding vulnerability. This has implications for disaster risk reduction (including climate change adaptation) in Mauritius, other small islands, and elsewhere.



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International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

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Elsevier BV