USAID sets up disaster fund for flood relief

Flood aid: Hale dropping off items donated by the US embassy for the flood victims at Menara Star recently.

THE United States government has lent a hand to the flood victims in the east coast of peninsular Malaysia through its civilian foreign aid agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance regional advisor Harlan Hale, who is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, recently visited Temerloh, Pahang, together with the National Security Council (NSC).

Hale has been with USAID for 14 years, and during his long years of service, he had visited several disaster-hit places such as Mozambique, the Philippines, Haiti and Jakarta.

“In 2000 in Mozambique, USAID provided support to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) for evacuation centres, as the flooding was longer than usual and people were in evacuation centres for more than one month before they could go home.

“In Jakarta in 2002, the flooding was localised and did not last as long, so we provided assistance to help people clean their homes when they could return,” he said.

Hale added that USAID would provide similar assistance to Malaysia, with the RM525,000 disaster fund provided by the US government.

“The fund will be used by NGOs working in support of the Malaysian government’s relief efforts.

“We have identified post-flood clean-up as one area where our partners can provide useful, timely assistance to the affected population they target,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the needs were great and the RM525,000 would not be able to meet them all.

“But we know that combined with the Malaysian government, other international friends of Malaysia and private and corporate support, our participation can help some of the affected communities.

“Our implementing partners will be best positioned to identify areas and communities where our assistance can be best used,” he said.

However, the NGOs have yet to be identified by the embassy.

Hale said that the post-flood clean-up was a journey of a thousand miles, especially since some of the victims had lost their homes in the flood.

“Focus should be put on the cleaning up work such as the need for clean water to wash and disinfect, extra labour to help vulnerable families, and items that had been damaged during the floods should be thrown away to avoid breeding rats,” he said.

Hale also shared his expertise in handling flood-prone areas and what measures could be taken to minimise the impact.

“There are a number of things that can be done to mitigate the impact of seasonal flooding.

“We tend to divide these into structural and non-structural measures,” he said.

Structural measures include river dredging, dyke construction and improvement or expansion of drainage networks, among others.

Hale explained that these measures were fairly expensive and usually carried out by the concerned country and its public works and hydrology departments.

Non-structural measures generally involve improvements to early warning and forecasting to provide people enough time to evacuate and secure as many of their possessions as possible, training those who run evacuation centres on how to best prepare the centres and operate them to provide a good quality of care and working with communities to improve personal and family preparedness prior to the onset of the monsoon season.

Hale said that while in Temerloh, he had visited a school that was being used as one of the evacuation centres.

“The school was not designed to hold more than 4,000 people and basic facilities such as toilets and bathrooms were not enough,” he said.

However, he applauded the government’s efforts for providing temporary toilets and was impressed by how efficiently the school teachers and staff ran the temporary evacuation centre.

He was also impressed by the lengths that ordinary Malaysians went to help the flood victims.

“It was amazing to see how the people came together by donating food and clothes to those affected by the flood,” said Hale, who has 28 years of experience in disaster management and humanitarian assistance.

From his visit, he would write a report on his findings and some possible approaches on standard concerns to look at following the major flood.

“We visited a few areas in Temerloh and discussed what we saw. In the report, I will also share approaches to health concerns related to water- and mosquito-borne disease risk, which increase post-flood, as well as measures we can use to address or prevent these,” he said.

He added that the report would be sent to the US Embassy with a request that it be shared with the NSC for its consideration and use.

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