Life below water with Raj Prayag
The guest was Raj Prayag
Mel De Gioia 0:25
Welcome to Engineering Heroes Mini Series in the lead up to the very first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development 2020. This mini series is being supported by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. My name is Melanie and my co host and our podcast’s resident engineer is Dominic. Today’s episode is on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 14 – Life Under Water.
Our guest today is a chartered civil and environmental engineer with over 50 years experience. In 1990 he was appointed as the Director of Environment of Mauritius. He has been an active member of the Institution of Engineers Mauritius since 1976, and is currently the president of that institution. When he was the chairman of the Mauritius Oceanography Institute between 2015 and 2018, he initiated many research studies into the maritime zone in the area. Joining us today is Raj Prayag.
Mel De Gioia 1:34
Raj was born in a small village which had no water, no electricity, there wasn’t even a dirt road. He remembers his mum having to fetch water every day from the river. He would say he grew up in difficult circumstances. While he was in secondary school, Raj made the connection that all these difficulties he’s experienced as a child growing up, all pertain to engineering.
If you have engineers who can provide you with all these services, you can improve your quality of life.
And I have never regretted becoming an engineer because through this particular profession I’ve been able to serve not only my countrymen, we are serving mankind because we saving the world, by all the actions we’re taking by the protection of the oceans and the seas, and the land, and the interaction between the land and the sea. Which is very, very important. And that has inspired me and it has always driven me and I’m today 75 years old, and this is my life. This is what I do. This is what I promote. This is what I’m working and living for.
This series is around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And today, in particular, we’re talking about goal number 14, which is life underwater. Would you be able to give us a bit of a rundown of what that entails?
This is the protection of the seas, the coastal areas, deep seas. You know the waters in our in our region in the Indian Ocean are prone to various changes. Wen have had our minerals and all sorts of temperature changes. We also prone to all these spills in our water, and accidents. We have a lot of cyclones and lots of risk. And there are some islands also. The islands, and the ecosystems of the islands is well learned now, is well documented. Very fragile, interrelated. There’s no difference between land based activities and coastal water activities.
So SDG 14 is very relevant to small island developing states and the protection of the coastal areas and the seas are paramount importance for our survival.
So this is why in implementing SDGs, established matter of marine protected areas, for example, a very important regulating illegal practices in fishings is very important. And we’ve been working on this. But for me, personally, is not something new.
I have been working on the protection of the marine environment well before the SDGs.
Mel De Gioia 3:48
What inspired you to start your work on SDGs number 14?
When I came back to Mauritius in 1976, I was appointed as a water engineer but with a portfolio responsible for water resources And one afternoon I got a call from somebody in the north of the island saying the sea has gone green. And I said what, what is why has it gone green? So we went and did an inspection and there was a lot of algae bloom just across the newly built hotel. So we took the water we did sampling, it was 1976 I’m talking about. So we did the sampling and we established that there was lots of nutrients, that the nitrates and phosphate leaching into the water. And further investigations also showed that we have a lot of sugarcane plantations in Mauritius, excess fertisilisers, chemical fertilisers being used, which are not fixed by the by the plants also leaching into. So we came to know about it.
We established the facts and the figures, but there was no law, there were no environmental laws as such.
Why protect these people to court and take legal statutory measures against them. I was inspired by this and I got the idea that let me go and talk to these people. So I want to talk to the first hotel owner. And he said to me, Mr. Prayag, you can’t do anything. There is no law, you know, you can’t do anything to me. And I said to him, look, I’ve come to see you as a friend. If you’re not going to stop letting your stuff into the sea, your loved one is going to be polluted. Your hotel, it will be full of algae, it will be, nobody will be able to bathe and you will have to close the shop, you will have to close your hotel. So this little message we spent about three months going around the island, talking to all the hotel owners, and we tried to convince them and then we had a campaign also with a prompt is saying, if you use more chemical fertiliser than your plant can fix, you’re wasting your money because it’s all leaching into the sea doing a lot of damage. So people will be trying to convince people and eventually in 1990, I was recognised for this work. And then the government of Mauritius decided to set up the Minister of Environment and the Department of Environment with the help of the World Bank. And funding of the World Bank, and I was invited to be the first director. So we work on the Environment Protection Act. We work with the World Bank, we set up this institution.
I think a lot of people don’t realise just how fragile it is in regards to just changes in temperatures, just slight variances in temperatures can have a massive impact. How are you as an engineer contributing to the UN SDG 14 goals? Is there specific projects that you’re working on at the moment that focus on these?
As an engineer, I am trying to put projects together. Since 1990 of the Environment Protection Act requires that all projects that we do along the coastline and also industrial buildings are subject of Environment Impact Assessment. And it’s not for the show. It is something which is very thoroughly done in Mauritius with the participation of the public. Because every EIA has got to have this obligatory participation. Notices that even in the public, we have public debates. So this is one of the main instruments we use. The other is Education. And
the project that we have now to be able to integrate the concerns of the SDG 14, is to formalise it and to make it formal into integrated into the education system.
We have a very good education system, education is free in Mauritius, as you know, from birth to university. And we want to integrate that. They are doing a lot of environmental education, but we want to do something very specific to climate change in the light of what is happening at the moment. And with the assistance and collaboration, so the WFEO World Federation of Engineering Organisation, the UNESCO, we have other partners also, from Asia, from Malaysia, we have Singaporeans helping us, also, the original Office of UNESCO in Nairobi, we all working together towards the project right now in 2020. Which is going to be held between starting the 13th of April. We want to integrate that in our curricula with studies. So we’re going to train in the first instance, some 50 teacher trainers so that we can get them up on board and convincing them by
educating them so that these people can work on the curricula and integrate all these issues to deal with climate change.
And specifically with SDG 14, regarding the seas and the coastal areas. With the formal education to them, they are
the next generation of people coming through will be fully educated and fully apprised of the dangers lurking ahead of us.
Mel De Gioia 8:28
That education programme does sound amazing. So it’s going to be going out and you teaching the teachers and train the trainers?
And curricula people to write curriculums. Yeah.
Mel De Gioia 8:37
Yeah. That should be amazing. You’re launching on the 13th of April for this project, is there a big goal with that project for 2020?
This is going to build over long term, obviously, it’s going to take a few years to be able to be implemented. But just getting it on board through the Minister of Education onto their books, and
changing the curriculum, I think is the most important thing that we are going to be able to do because it’s going to pay off over years to come in the future.
You’re going to have
a new generation of students and professors and teachers, are going to be well versed, understand, and take on board and the environment and SDG 14.
The education side of it is so important, because as you said, when yo went and spoke to the hotel owners and said, Yeah, you know, if you don’t act, forget all the the economic side of it, it’s going to ruin the beach front in front of you. It’s always going to have a major impact. And people don’t think about those things. I suppose it’s not until you actually pointed out Yeah, make sense. So it’s extremely important to have the education right.
Mel De Gioia 9:42
Well, thank you so much. We wish you the best of luck with the launch of your project in April.
Thank you very much indeed.
Mel De Gioia 9:48
And thank you for tuning into Engineering Heroes as we prepare you for the first World Engineering Day on Sustainable Development, which is going to be held every fourth of March. If you want to know more about our podcast or the episode you just heard, visit our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au. We hope you’re enjoying our mini series which is brought to you with the support of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. The best way for you to show your support for our show, is to tell people, either in person or write a review. Just spread the word. Seriously, it is that easy. We look forward to you and your friends joining us next time when we bring you another episode with one of our engineering champions.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Raj is a chartered Civil and Environmental engineer with over 50 years of experience.
In 1990 he was appointed as the Director of Environment of Mauritius.
Raj has been an active member of the Institution of Engineers Mauritius since 1976 and is currently the President of this institution.
When he was Chairman of the Mauritius Oceanography Institute between 2015 & 2018, he initiated many research studies in his area.