Questions on flood control

A FEW weeks ago, continuous rainfall caused devastating floods across eight states in Malaysia, leaving some areas submerged for days and costing the nation RM1.4bil in infrastructure damages.

Homes were destroyed, roads and highways cut off, and businesses suffered insurmountable losses. Unofficial accounts predict that the economic losses could amount to RM20bil.

On Dec 18, the heavy downpour in Kuala Lumpur exceeded a month’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours, leading to flooding that resulted in the loss of at least 54 lives and displacement of 125,000 people.

Many were trapped in their own homes by high waters with barely enough food. Their power and water supply was also disrupted. Without electricity, they were cut off from the outside world. As hunger and thirst set in, they screamed at rescue boats for food and other essentials. There were people who broke into and looted grocery stores out of hunger.

Multiple news reports and victim accounts confirmed that civilian rescuers dominated the earlier rescue and relief efforts. Through social media, volunteers coordinated their operations by blasting out SOS alerts, connecting rescuers to victims, kickstarting donation drives and documenting stories on the ground.

Mobilisation of personnel and assets by government agencies like the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) and Selangor Disaster Management Unit (SDMU) appeared scattered and lethargic in comparison to the efforts of the volunteers.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob later admitted to the weaknesses and promised improvements, and also stressed that he would not defend the shortcomings of Nadma in activating and coordinating the government’s flood management operations.

In the following days, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong called for a post-mortem on the crisis and proposed additional drainage infrastructure to reduce flash floods in the future. Leaders from across the political spectrum were quick to echo the King and urged Ismail Sabri’s Cabinet to hold a special meeting to provide a full explanation and debate on the best measures to expedite the activation of crisis relief assets.

Ismail Sabri has called for a special Parliamentary sitting on Jan 20 “to discuss matters relating to national interests which is the flood and post-flood assistance coordination for the Malaysian Family and the long-term flood management plans.”

People are sick of the finger-pointing behaviour of top leadership that not only did not resolve anything but ultimately caused more delays in taking the necessary action. It is invigorating to finally see one person step up and take accountability.

In anticipation of the sitting, below are seven important questions that we want to see answered:

1. What was Nadma’s role and what actions were taken when floodwaters were rising in parts of Selangor on Dec 18, 2021? What instructions were given to the state disaster management committees or state governments?

2. In preparation for the monsoon season and heavy rainfall, did Nadma or other agencies put on standby sufficient boats, helicopters, and other assets in anticipation of possible floods?

3. Malaysians with boats and heavy vehicles were ready to assist in the evacuation efforts. Did any government agency coordinate or take the lead in managing the deployment of these private assets?

4. When were evacuation orders given to residents of Shah Alam and Hulu Langat, and for others in areas subsequently affected by the floods?

5. Water from two dams were released into the Hulu Langat area, contributing to the devastating flood and damages there.

a) Which agency is responsible for monitoring and managing the water level in dams?

b) When were “critical levels” at the dams detected, and what warning was given to the relevant local authorities?

c) Is there a standard operating procedure for coordination between agencies when water from dams is released? Was that SOP followed in the lead-up to the December 2021 floods?

6. How much was budgeted by the government for flood mitigation projects including enhancement of river banks from 2018 to 2021? How was the money spent? What flood mitigation projects were not approved and why?

7. What were JKR’s (Public Works Department) and JPS’ (Department of Irrigation and Drainage) responses to the floods, which have now been declared a national disaster? What are the master plans being worked out to ensure better stormwater management in the future, especially in low-lying areas?

I wish I could say that by asking questions, all future disasters and potential mismanagement can be averted. They won’t, unless there is political will to make tough decisions and consistent efforts to take surgical approaches towards the problem. But how else will the world change if we do not ask questions?

CHAN QUIN ER , Kuala Lumpur

The writer is a lawyer and also MCA central committee member.

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