PETALING JAYA – The country’s massive flooding and multiple landslides must be a wake up call for Malaysia, according to environmental groups.
They also called for more scrutiny of development in environmentally sensitive regions.
With Malaysia already struggling to enter the endemic phase of Covid-19 with the Omicron variant threat looming over the country, the recent natural disasters have exacerbated the nation’s fragile health and socio-economic fabric, said the Global Environment Centre (GEC).
Faizal Parish, its director, said that global climate change has increased the intensity and frequency of thunderstorms in South-East Asia. This is causing extreme rainfall events and putting people at high risk of natural catastrophes.
“The country must rethink its flood prevention, mitigation and preparedness approach while ensuring coordinated implementation.
“We must stop the clearance and conversion of catchment forests and peatlands that protect our cities and villages from floods.
“Once forests are cleared, runoff can increase by five to 10 times, and eroded soil can clog rivers and drains,” he said in a recent statement.
Other important flood prevention steps include regular cleaning and desilting rivers and drains, as well as protecting river buffers or routes where development is not allowed. He added that natural flood retention areas should also be strengthened along rivers and in urban areas.
GEC’s river care programme manager Dr Kalithasan Kailasam said massive flooding will no longer be a once-in-a-century weather event, and is expected to happen more frequently.
According to the water and river management expert, climate change has changed Malaysia’s rainfall patterns. Therefore, development should be stopped in flood-prone areas and vulnerable populations should be moved out.
“Unless our communities are flood-proofed, our infrastructures well-prepared and catchments and wetlands protected, we will be increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of flooding, as shown recently,” he said.
He stated that Malaysia has a great flood prediction system and monitoring system. However, the main problem is in the communication and dissemination of information from the relevant agencies to all the public.
Enhancing people’s resilience towards flooding and ensuring appropriate responses to disaster warnings are also crucial, said Kalithasan.
“Everyone must play a role in flood management, especially at local levels, and we can’t leave everything to the government.
“Communities in flood-prone areas need to self-organise by establishing their own community flood preparedness groups,” he added.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia’s (SAM) president Meenakshi RAMAN stated that, given recent floods, and the likelihood for more extreme rain events, it was even more critical that highlands, and hill slopes, be protected. However, private development is prohibited.
She stated that the group was against any development on sensitive hill lands because of past tragedies that had resulted in many deaths and much property being destroyed.
“Hillside developments pose environmental and social impacts such as soil erosion, landslides, landslips, unstable soil and negative impacts from any blasting works.
“Development on hills and highlands must be strictly controlled to ensure public safety and to maintain the pristine quality of the environment and biodiversity,” she said.
Meenakshi also stated that all forested areas must remain protected and conserved to prevent the effects of climate change.
Puan Sri Sabrina Syed Ashil, president of the Association for the Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia, expressed concern about local councils being allowed too much freedom in deciding on projects.
“Especially since they are not locally elected but are government appointees.
“At this moment, where most of our forest has already been logged, any project that encroaches into any forest, reserved or otherwise, should also not be approved,” she said.
She also mentioned the tragic deaths caused hillside developments like those in Tanjung Bungah in Penang which claimed 11 lives; in Bukit Kukus in Penang where nine people died in 2018; and in Kuala Terla in Cameron Highlands where three workers were murdered.
“Unless one has the expertise to deal with the problems, one should not try it,” she added.