Vol 2 No 33 | Oct 2022

Now that Parliament has been dissolved, your Editor, Jamari Mohtar, provides some ideas on how to mitigate the dreadful effects of the expected worst flood as Malaysia is bracing for more monsoon rain that originates in China and the north Pacific during this Northeast Monsoon season from October to March.

  • Weather experts are predicting that Malaysia would be facing a worst flood this year during the peak of the Northeast Monsoon season from November to January, which could be worse than last year’s worst flood.
  • But first, a recap on the cause of the worst flood in Selangor last year by climatologists especially Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
  • A tropical depression was first spotted off Sarawak and the South China Sea on Dec 15 before moving westward to peninsular Malaysia.
  • A tropical depression is formed by air that moves towards lower areas, rises and creates thunderstorms with strong winds, causing floods. When it travels overland, it is supposed to peter out.
  • However, this tropical depression that had caused floods in the eastern state of Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang on Dec 16-17, instead of petering out, its supposedly weak remnants gathered strength and continued its move inland towards the Straits of Malacca.
  • This triggered continuous, heavy rainfall in the west coast, resulting in the worst flood in Selangor during the weekend of December 18 and 19.
  • The lesson learned then was we can no longer assume the monsoon season of October to March will cause the traditional massive floods only in the east coast states, as it can been seen last year it also happened in the west coast states of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan.
  • Also when the remnant of the tropical depression gained strength as it travelled inland instead of petering out, this gave an element of unexpectancy, when the volume of rainfall in Selangor on that fateful day in 24 hours was worth the volume of rainfall in a month.
  • Many felt then it was quite intriguing that the moisture convergence over Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang that caused floods there brought about by the tropical depression associated with the low-pressure system appearing off Sarawak and the South China Sea did not peter out as usual.
  • Instead, the remnant of the tropical depression continued to gain strength as it travelled inland to the west coast and hovered over the Straits of Malacca.
  • The analogy is that of a dying patient on the verge of death whom doctor has written off the chance of his or her survival suddenly becoming energetic and getting up from the ICU bed very alive and kicking.
  • Could this be the work of climate change? The answer is not so straightforward, said Prof Fredolin then, as this required further detailed study with computer simulations.
  • Despite this, he said it could still be concluded that climate change has been attributed to almost all extreme weathers in the last two to three decades.
  • Fast forward to a year later now, your Editor hopes the answer to this intriguing question has been found by the experts, which will then help a lot in mitigating the harmful effect of a worst flood caused by heavy downpour of this kind.
  • Even if the answer is still not forthcoming, based on the adage that knowing a problem is already half the solution, the weathermen in Malaysia should look out for a situation where a tropical depression after offloading its moisture convergence suddenly become a force to be reckoned with, instead of a spent force.
  • This requires further monitoring of the “spent force” tropical depression by the weathermen whether it has really become a spent force or begun to gather strength again.
  • How this monitoring can be done, your Editor doesn’t have the answer, because it is for the weather experts to come out with a way to monitor this.
  • The logic lies in that if we can monitor it in advance, then we will be in a better position to prepare for the worst flood in the west coast.
  • It has to be borne in mind that during monsoon season with frequent heavy rainfall, flood – big or small – cannot be avoided.
  • But what we can certainly do is to mitigate the worst and tragic effects of a big flood by early preparation.
  • This includes educating and reminding the public to be always in a state of readiness by checking often the weather report of the Met Station, and observing the do’s and don’ts in a situation of continuous heavy downpour occurring for hours, among others.
  • Also, the phenomenon of climate change will have to be factored in which has caused extreme weather events to occur.
  • The only difference climate change adds to the flood equation is the increasing frequency of rainfall and its unpredictability that have been occurring for the past few decades.
  • Water (rain) is not our enemy; it is our friend sent by Allah (or Mother Nature for those who don’t believe in the existence of God) as a blessing for the survival of the human species.
  • And climate change that has been the talk of the world for decades (not just the talk of the week in Let’s Talk!) is itself not the result of the destructive work of water, but that of humankind which is inflicted on Nature via relentless logging and burning of fossil fuel, among others, all in the name of progress and development for humankind.
  • Of course we need progress and development that distinguish us from the animal species but that doesn’t mean we need to attain them at the expense of the very abode we live in.
  • Thus, it is very apt when the Quran says: “Calamities (mischief, corruption) have appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of the people have earned, so that He (Allah) makes them taste some of what they did, in order that they may return (to the right way).” Ar-Rum (30): 41.
  • And the right way alluded to in the Quran is sustainable development, the very progress that is in tune with not only our material well being but also a holistic one which takes into account the non-material aspects of development such as a flourishing flora and fauna, emotional well being in having a good physical and mental health, spiritual well being, etc.
  • Coming back to the issue of climate change, most people are still perplexed why climate change is the cause of frequent and unpredictable rain, with some experts in a denial mode.
  • Climate change is not really a rocket science and is very easy to grasp. The act of destruction in the form of relentless logging, massive deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels has resulted in an excessive increase in the emission of greenhouse gases, which in turn has caused global warming.
  • When temperature increases, the air has more ability to hold more moisture. This moisture will then come down as rainfall.
  • When the atmosphere is sucking up more water (around 7% more water for every 1° Celsius rise in temperature), heavy rainfall are more likely to happen in the coastal regions, and severe droughts in the middle of continents.
  • This is the reason why in one country, there could be flood in one region and raging forest fires in another, occurring at the same time.
  • This is also the reason why the recent worst flood in Baling occurred outside the current monsoon season, highlighting very much the unpredictable nature of climate change.
  • In the worst flood that occurred last year in Selangor, boats seemed to be in a short supply causing many to be trapped at their home on rooftops.
  • Calls by victims trapped at home for boats to be deployed to help evacuate them to the nearest flood relief centres were even heard on national television.
  • But a few days after the floods, there were some boat owners advertising in the social media volunteering their assistance to move those living in the areas where the flood had not subsided yet to safer areas or the relief centres.
  • This shows that there is not so much a lack of boats that’s the problem but the mobilisation of boat owners to join the humanitarian mission to help those trapped at their homes to be brought to safer areas.
  • What can be done is for the relevant authority in each state to have a database of boat owners in the state who could be mobilised and deployed on a voluntary basis for a search and rescue mission during a worst flood to help victims trapped in dire strait at their homes or any buildings.
  • Actually this time around, the government has done a good job of getting a total of 79,549 personnel and rescue agency members ready to be deployed with its assets in case a worst flood occurred.
  • It has also mobilised 22,622 assets, comprising boats, boat trailers and jet skis.
  • But it is all right to also mobilise boat owners in this regard so that every Keluarga Malaysia will have a stake in chipping in with the search and rescue efforts.
  • What’s important here is that all these efforts need to be coordinated in an effective and efficient manner.
  • The relevant authorities could also start to identify abandoned lands on higher ground near flood-prone areas to make it a parking lot for those who are on the road during the early hours of a big flood to park their vehicles.
  • This will minimise the cost of damages to vehicles, which are common during floods.
  • Here’s the timeline on efforts at early preparation announced by the government in a reversed chronological order:
  • On Sep 12, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced early measures to tackle the year-end floods, after chairing the Central Disaster Management Committee meeting, which discussed preparations for the floods from November to March.
  • This, he said, included instructing the Education Ministry to convert vacant boarding school hostels into relief centres for flood victims, especially senior citizens, women and children. 
  • He added that the Social Welfare Department had activated 6,010 evacuation centres that could house 1,620,855 people.
  • “A total of 79,549 personnel and rescue agency members are ready to be deployed with our assets. 
  • “The government has mobilised 22,622 assets, comprising boats, boat trailers and jet skis. 
  • “We agreed to activate district disaster management committees, chaired by district officers, and to empower them in flood-prone areas. 
  • “They have an important role in conducting rescue work and despatching aid to flooded areas, while the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) and state Disaster Management committees coordinate efforts at the federal and state levels.”
  • Ismail Sabri said the government had set aside RM2.59 million to upgrade facilities and infrastructure in evacuation centres, such as shower rooms and toilets. 
  • “The Welfare Department should prepare meals for the first 24 hours and necessities for babies and senior citizens, such as disposable diapers. 
  • “These committees should also ensure that early-warning systems (EWS) are working. 
  • “The siren sound should be distinguished from that of ambulance and police sirens. Authorities will make announcements about evacuations through loudspeakers.” 
  • Ismail Sabri urged people living in low-lying areas to be aware of early warnings and evacuate their homes once the authorities notify them.
  • On Sep 7, the Fire and Rescue Department reported that there are 73 dangerous locations nationwide that are at risk of being hit by a water surge with the highest number of 20 in Kedah, followed by Selangor with 17 high-risk areas, Terengganu with nine such locations, Perak and Johor (six each), Kelantan (five), Pahang (four), Sabah and Sarawak (two each), Perlis and Negri Sembilan (one each). 
  • On Aug 9, the Forestry Department DG Datuk Indera Mohd Ridza Awang announced that the department will install EWS at 20 forest eco parks at risk of landslides and water surges.
  • The system will be installed at strategic locations and will issue a warning siren when such incidents occur to warn visitors to get out of and evacuate the high-risk areas, increasing their chances of survival.
  • On June 11, Minerals and Geoscience Department Malaysia (JMG) DG, Hisamuddin Termidi informed that an EWS to detect geological disasters, especially debris flow, developed by JMG in partnership with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has been installed at the Titi Hayun Recreational Forest to provide advance warning in the event of a water surge phenomenon in the area.
  • In March, the Minister of Environment and Water Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Mat informed that the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) had implemented a flood forecast and warning programme which aims to provide early warning to agencies responsible for disaster management and the public, and that sirens will be sounded when the water level exceeds a certain threshold value to give early warnings to locals with flood forecasts as early as seven days, and warnings as early as two days provided to locations expected to face flooding.
  • On Jan 20, Shah Alam Police Chief Assistant Commissioner Baharudin Mat Taib had advised people to look out for themselves and their families and always be prepared for any eventualities due to flooding. 
  • “We also need the cooperation of the people to channel flood-related information or the discovery of drowning victims to us,” he added.
  • The Shah Alam district headquarters operations room had provided fixed line telephone numbers at 03-5520 2000 or 03-5520 2022, for the public to call and contact with such information.
  • On Jan 3, PM Ismail said the government plans to increase siren stations that are also equipped with public announcements at flood-prone areas to warn residents and also to instruct them to evacuate.
  • This was part of the proposed improvements discussed in the Post-Northeast Monsoon Flood Disaster Management Task Force special meeting, which he chaired.
  • The proposed improvements also include having a Centralised Flood Siren Warning System coordinated by the DID; closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at river level monitoring stations to enable residents to be prepared to evacuate should the river water reach the danger level; and also Numerical Weather Prediction.
  •  Ismail Sabri said in order to enhance protection for drainage and beach infrastructure, the Ministry of Environment and Water (Kasa) proposed an increase in the average recurrence interval (ARI) from 100 years to 200 years.
  • With the dissolution of Parliament on Oct 10, the PN government helmed by an Umno Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakup becomes a caretaker government until a new government is formed after GE15.
  • There will be limitations on the powers of the executive whose role is limited to basic administrative roles to ensure the smooth running of government affairs during this period.
  • The PM and Cabinet members should not be allowed to make major policy decisions, make appointments to important positions or decide on contracts or commitments that have a major impact.
  • The caretaker government is not allowed to use government funds and machinery for political advertisements during the period of campaigning in the general election.
  • The government can run with the support and assistance of civil servants under the Chief Secretary to the Government.
  • In the days ahead, the Election Commission will announce the date for Nomination Day, the campaigning period and Polling Day.
  • Once these are announced, momentum will pick up when political parties/coalitions are expected to announce their candidates in the respective electoral constituencies.
  • Since no one party in Malaysia has ever ruled the country, the winner of GE 15 is expected to be one of the following coalitions: Barisan Nasional (BN) helmed by Umno, Perikatan Nasional (PN) helmed by Bersatu and Pakatan Harapan (PH) helmed by PKR.
  • Although it is still early days, most analysts at this juncture say BN has the edge to win.
  • But all are unanimous that whichever coalition wins, it would be with a precarious majority.
  • As GE15 will take place in the monsoon season, voter turnout is expected to be relatively lower than previous GEs, which the opposition bemoans as disadvantageous to them.
  • But some analysts are saying that having had the experience of political and economic instability with a government that did not enjoy strong majority for the past four years, the rakyat will be very determined to come out in force to vote despite the monsoon season in wanting to have a say in the election of a strong, stable government.

Weather experts are predicting that Malaysia would be facing a worst flood this year during the peak of the Northeast Monsoon season from November to January, which could be worse than last year’s worst flood.

But first, a recap on the cause of the worst flood in Selangor last year by climatologists especially Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

A tropical depression was first spotted off Sarawak and the South China Sea on Dec 15 before moving westward to peninsular Malaysia.

It is formed by air that moves towards lower areas, rises and creates thunderstorms with strong winds, causing floods. When it travels overland, it is supposed to peter out.

However, this tropical depression that had caused floods in the eastern state of Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang on Dec 16-17, instead of petering out, its supposedly weak remnants gathered strength and continued its move inland towards the Straits of Malacca.

This triggered continuous, heavy rainfall in the west coast, resulting in the worst flood in Selangor during the weekend of December 18 and 19.

The lesson learned then was we can no longer assume the monsoon season of October to March will cause the traditional massive floods only in the east coast states, as it can been seen last year it also happened in the west coast states of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan.

Also when the remnant of the tropical depression gained strength as it travelled inland instead of petering out, this gave an element of unexpectancy, when the volume of rainfall in Selangor on that fateful day in 24 hours was worth the volume of rainfall in a month.

Many felt then it was quite intriguing that this had happened. The analogy is that of a dying patient on the verge of death whom doctor has written off the chance of his or her survival suddenly becoming energetic and getting up from the ICU bed very alive and kicking. 

Fast forward to a year later now, your Editor hopes the answer to this intriguing question has been found by the experts, which will then helped a lot in mitigating the harmful effect of a worst flood caused by heavy downpour of this kind.

Even if the answer is still not forthcoming, based on the adage that knowing a problem is already half the solution, the weathermen in Malaysia should look out for a situation where a tropical depression after offloading its moisture convergence suddenly become a force to be reckoned with, instead of a spent force.

This requires further monitoring of the “spent force” tropical depression by the weathermen whether it has really become a spent force or begun to gather strength again.  

How this monitoring can be done, your Editor doesn’t have the answer, because it is for the weather experts to come out with a way to monitor this.

The logic lies in that if we can monitor it in advance, then we will be in a better position to prepare for the worst flood in the west coast.

It has to be borne in mind that during monsoon season with frequent heavy rainfall, flood – big or small – cannot be avoided. 

But what we can certainly do is to mitigate the worst and tragic effects of a big flood by early preparation.

This includes educating and reminding the public to be always in a state of readiness by checking often the weather report of the Met Station, and observing the do’s and don’ts in a situation of continuous heavy downpour occurring for hours, among others.

Also, the phenomenon of climate change will have to be factored in which has caused extreme weather events to occur.

The only difference climate change adds to the flood equation is the increasing frequency of rainfall and its unpredictability that have been occurring for the past few decades.

Water (rain) is not our enemy; it is our friend sent by Allah (or Mother Nature for those who don’t believe in the existence of God) as a blessing for the survival of the human species.

And climate change that has been the talk of the world for decades (not just the talk of the week in Let’s Talk!) is itself not the result of the destructive work of water, but that of humankind which is inflicted on Nature via relentless logging and burning of fossil fuel, among others, all in the name of progress and development for humankind.

Of course we need progress and development that distinguish us from the animal species but that doesn’t mean we need to attain them at the expense of the very abode we live in.

Thus, it is very apt when the Quran says: “Calamities (mischief, corruption) have appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of the people have earned, so that He (Allah) makes them taste some of what they did, in order that they may return (to the right way).” Ar-Rum (30): 41.

And the right way alluded to in the Quran is sustainable development, the very progress that is in tune with not only our material well being but also a holistic one which takes into account the non-material aspects of development such as a flourishing flora and fauna, emotional well being in having a good physical and mental health, spiritual well being, etc.

Climate change is not really a rocket science and is very easy to grasp. The act of destruction in the form of relentless logging, massive deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels has resulted in an excessive increase in the emission of greenhouse gases, which in turn has caused global warming.

When temperature increases, the air has more ability to hold more moisture. This moisture will then come down as rainfall.

When the atmosphere is sucking up more water (around 7% more water for every 1° Celsius rise in temperature), heavy rainfall are more likely to happen in the coastal regions, and severe droughts in the middle of continents.

This is the reason why in one country, there could be flood in one region and raging forest fires in another, occurring at the same time.

This is also the reason why the recent worst flood in Baling occurred outside the current monsoon season, highlighting very much the unpredictable nature of climate change.

In the worst flood that occurred last year in Selangor, boats seemed to be in a short supply causing many to be trapped at their home on rooftops.

Calls by victims trapped at home for boats to be deployed to help evacuate them to the nearest flood relief centres were even heard on national television.

But a few days after the floods, there were some boat owners advertising in the social media volunteering their assistance to move those living in the areas where the flood had not subsided yet to safer areas or the relief centres.

This shows that there is not so much a lack of boats that’s the problem but the mobilisation of boat owners to join the humanitarian mission to help those trapped at their homes to be brought to safer areas.

What can be done is for the relevant authority in each state to have a database of boat owners in the state who could be mobilised and deployed on a voluntary basis for a search and rescue mission during a worst flood to help victims trapped in dire strait at their homes or any buildings.

Actually this time around, the government has done a good job of getting a total of 79,549 personnel and rescue agency members ready to be deployed with its assets in case a worst flood occurred.

It has also mobilised 22,622 assets, comprising boats, boat trailers and jet skis. But it is all right to also mobilise boat owners in this regard so that every Keluarga Malaysia will have a stake in chipping in with the search and rescue efforts.

What’s important here is that all these efforts need to be coordinated in an effective and efficient manner.

The relevant authorities could also start to identify abandoned lands on higher ground near flood-prone areas to make it a parking lot for those who are on the road during the early hours of a big flood to park their vehicles.

This will minimise the cost of damages to vehicles, which are common during floods.

For this year, here’s the timeline on efforts at early preparation announced by the government in a chronological order:

On Sep 12, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced early measures to tackle the year-end floods, after chairing the Central Disaster Management Committee meeting, which discussed preparations for the floods from November to March.

This, he said, included instructing the Education Ministry to convert vacant boarding school hostels into relief centres for flood victims, especially senior citizens, women and children. 

He added that the Social Welfare Department had activated 6,010 evacuation centres that could house 1,620,855 people.

“We agreed to activate district disaster management committees, chaired by district officers, and to empower them in flood-prone areas. 

“They have an important role in conducting rescue work and despatching aid to flooded areas, while the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) and state Disaster Management committees coordinate efforts at the federal and state levels.”

Ismail Sabri said the government had set aside RM2.59 million to upgrade facilities and infrastructure in evacuation centres, such as shower rooms and toilets. 

“The Welfare Department should prepare meals for the first 24 hours and necessities for babies and senior citizens, such as disposable diapers. 

“Nadma has distributed 59,350 food kits and 127,272 tents. State and district Disaster Management committees should get ready early so that aid can be distributed to all locations, especially if roads are cut off during floods. 

“These committees should also ensure that early-warning systems (EWS) are working. 

“The siren sound should be distinguished from that of ambulance and police sirens. Authorities will make announcements about evacuations through loudspeakers.” 

Ismail Sabri urged people living in low-lying areas to be aware of early warnings and evacuate their homes once the authorities notify them.

On Sep 7, the Fire and Rescue Department reported that there are 73 dangerous locations nationwide that are at risk of being hit by a water surge with the highest number of 20 in Kedah, followed by Selangor with 17 high-risk areas, Terengganu with nine such locations, Perak and Johor (six each), Kelantan (five), Pahang (four), Sabah and Sarawak (two each), Perlis and Negri Sembilan (one each). 

On Aug 9, the Forestry Department DG Datuk Indera Mohd Ridza Awang announced that the department will install  EWS at 20 forest eco parks at risk of landslides and water surges.

The system will be installed at strategic locations in areas at risk of water surges and will issue a warning siren when such incidents occur to warn visitors to get out of and evacuate the high-risk areas, increasing their chances of survival.

On June 11, Minerals and Geoscience Department Malaysia (JMG) DG Hisamuddin Termidi informed that an EWS to detect geological disasters, especially debris flow, developed by JMG in partnership with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has been installed at the Titi Hayun Recreational Forest to provide advance warning in the event of a water surge phenomenon in the area.

In March, the Minister of Environment and Water Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Mat informed that the Department of Irrigation and Drainage had implemented a flood forecast and warning programme which aims to provide early warning to agencies responsible for disaster management and the public, and that sirens will be sounded when the water level exceeds a certain threshold value to give early warnings to locals with flood forecasts as early as seven days and warnings as early as two days provided to locations expected to face flooding.

On Jan 20, Shah Alam Police Chief Assistant Commissioner Baharudin Mat Taib had advised people to look out for themselves and their families and always be prepared for any eventualities due to flooding. 

“We also need the cooperation of the people to channel flood-related information or the discovery of drowning victims to us,” he added.

The Shah Alam district headquarters operations room had provided fixed line telephone numbers at 03-5520 2000 or 03-5520 2022, for the public to call and contact with such information.

On Jan 3, PM Ismail said the government plans to increase siren stations that are also equipped with public announcements at flood-prone areas to warn residents and also to instruct them to evacuate.

This was part of the proposed improvements discussed in the Post-Northeast Monsoon Flood Disaster Management Task Force special meeting, which he chaired.

The proposed improvements also include having a Centralised Flood Siren Warning System coordinated by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID); closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at river level monitoring stations to enable residents to be prepared to evacuate should the river water reach the danger level; and also Numerical Weather Prediction.

Ismail Sabri said in order to enhance protection for drainage and beach infrastructure, the Ministry of Environment and Water (Kasa) proposed an increase in the average recurrence interval (ARI) from 100 years to 200 years.

 

ARI is a way of explaining how rare an event is, by comparing how often, on average, the particular event of interest has occurred in the past – for example more than once a year, more than once a decade and more than once in 30 years.

Apart from that, the meeting also looked into the proposals to improve communications, education and public awareness (Cepa) through flood simulations and information disseminated by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (KKMM).

“The strategic communications cluster led by KKMM has been active in disseminating information since the beginning of the northeast monsoon and efforts had also been intensified since the second wave of floods was forecasted to ensure that residents and the country as a whole would be better prepared and things would be better controlled,” he said.

Ismail Sabri said strategic communications involved announcements on warnings and information on the current situation, government aid, arising issues, efforts to detect fake news and issuance of rebuttal of fake news.

He said for that purpose, the platforms being used are the mass media, social media, Information Department channels, as well as through go-to-the-ground, advocacy, publication and engagement efforts.

He added that the implementation of all the initiatives would be constantly monitored by the Task Force to ensure the national disaster preparedness and management mechanisms would always be improved and at the optimum level.

On EWS, the Johor Town Council has recently introduced a good initiative – a mobile EWS warning nearby people of the danger of floods (see Video 1 and Video 2).

But all these early preparations announced by the government will come to naught if the rakyat ignore them at their own peril.

Regards,

Jamari Mohtar

Editor, Let’s Talk!

%d bloggers like this: