Sustainability at the forefront to counter climate-related disasters


Hot issue: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that with the region’s weak climate defence, South-East Asia is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change.

AS the world heats up, Malaysia must brace for more extreme weather and its implications. Worryingly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that with the region’s weak climate defence, South-East Asia is one of the areas most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Our responsibilities now are manyfold; the first is to implement short and long-term steps to mitigate and slow down global warming, curb unregulated development, and to be ready and prepared when climate-related disasters and other catastrophes like earthquakes strike.

Climate change affects global temperature and precipitation patterns. These, in turn, influence the intensity and frequency of extreme environmental events, such as forest fires, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, droughts, and storms, says University Malaya geologist Prof Dr Azman Abd Ghani.

Regional cooperation

Prof Azman explains that most Asian countries have a warning system for tsunamis, Malaysia included. Earthquakes, however, are a different story.

“The exact moment when a strong earthquake hits cannot be predicted yet. We have a United States Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake catalogue, but this is for earthquakes which have already occurred,” he explains.

In the case of the recent floods, the Government must have good communication with locals, says Prof Azman.

“When dams are full and the Government plans to release the water, there must at least be a system to inform the surrounding population (e.g. Hulu Langat area).”

Although Malaysia is a member of the Asean Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT), and Asean’s Disaster Emergency Logistics System (DELSA) that houses relief goods and supplies for disaster-affected countries, there is still space for better cooperation in addressing future disasters, which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

While some natural disasters like severe weather (e.g tropical storms) or tsunamis are predictable, some, like earthquakes, are not. Nevertheless, after 2004, a transnational early warning system was put in place and this is further empowered through “The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030”, says Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Disaster management specialist Dr Khairilmizal Samsudin.

“Learning from a country like Japan would be great in improving our early warning system. However, we need to empower our community more and the federal government needs to critically improve on its disaster management capability,” he adds.

Combat climate change

Sofia Castelo, Think City’s climate & environmental resilience director, says that Malaysia needs better early warning systems, but more importantly, we need climate adaptation strategies and programmes.

Khazanah Nasional subsidiary Think City is a social purpose organisation with the mission of making cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.

Castelo: Malaysia needs better early warning systems but, more importantly, we need climate adaptation strategies and programmes.Castelo: Malaysia needs better early warning systems but, more importantly, we need climate adaptation strategies and programmes.

“Climate adaptation programmes map estimated impacts in specific regions and locations using all available science, and implement strategies that reduce the vulnerability of the population to these impacts,” Castelo explains.

While early warning systems are very important, they don’t prepare the territory or the population for the changes that are coming.

To be effective, there must be an integration of international, regional, national and local early warning systems.

“In terms of disaster risk reduction, the country needs to have federal and state level disaster risk reduction units connected to local, regional and international meteorology stations and agencies. These units will then manage and continuously improve new early warning systems,” she says.

“In the climate adaptation programme Think City has developed for the urban areas of Penang Island, the first municipal climate adaptation programme to have been developed for Malaysia, we allocated a budget for the creation of a disaster risk reduction unit and an innovative app for social resilience that includes an early warning system,” says Castelo, adding that the programme will be initiated in 2022 and plans are underway to upscale the app to the national level.

“Climate change is a global problem and Malaysia must work together with other countries for climate mitigation, in order to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and also for climate adaptation, to prepare the country for the inevitable changes that are coming.

“This must be a priority for the country, region and the world, as all countries must do more if we are to keep the planet safe for future generations.”

Sustainable development

Sustainable urban development specialist Yasmin Lane says that Malaysians need to have an emergency mindset – any indication of strange weather should be taken seriously, and all media platforms should alert the public and be prepared for worst case scenarios.

She argues that in terms of Malaysia’s urban planning, it is really hard not to blame those who approved developments in the first place, individuals who should have known better and definitely could have done better.

Lane: Malaysians need to have an emergency mindset - any indication of strange weather should be taken seriously. Lane: Malaysians need to have an emergency mindset - any indication of strange weather should be taken seriously.

“There is no urgency or sense of amanah (trust) that decisions made will impact communities for generations to come – every tree they sign off to chop down, every highway or highrise that gets built – their planning system is way too technocratic and exclusive. Planners tend to follow rules and guidelines that do not reflect current challenges and realities,” she says.

Lane empahsises that Malaysia needs more progressive and participatory planning – planners that are critical about the checklists and engage with all communities that live and work in the places they plan.

“A crucial aspect of social resilience is how we talk about climate change and convey the message that it’s an emergency and change the narrative from all angles including the private sector. We need to be investing more in climate jobs for example and introducing it in schools in ways that change daily behaviours,” she says.

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