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Environment 101: The Big Flood Crisis & Serious Look At Prepping

1971 Flood Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Natural Disaster

After 50 years, Klang Valley saw another major flood that started on a fine Saturday and lasted for several days thereafter making it one of the worst natural disasters in recent years. The last time we saw massive floods that crippled the country was back in 1971 that saw 32 people lose their life. The recent flood saw a loss of 41 deaths so far and the Government was heavily criticised for the lack and slow response to the flood. Image source: Reddit

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Those who stayed in a double-storey or condominium fared better than those who stayed in the single storey as they still a floor to escape the fast-rising but in the end, they fared the same problem – shortage of food & water, no running water and no electricity. Image source: Twitter@sadiqasyraf

Caught In Midst of Major Flood

We actually had planned to visit my sister-in-law who was not well in Kuala Lumpur and my wife wanted to cook chicken soup to bring along for her. It was raining cats and dogs the night before and as we wanted to go to the market, it was still raining. Despite the uneasiness of the continuing rain, we braved ourselves to go to KL and it was not long before we got stuck in a massive traffic jam. Then the route to KL was blocked due to the highway being flooded and soon, we decided to take the route back home.

Meanwhile, the condominium where my sister and family was staying started to be surrounded by floodwater and although they were safe considering they were staying on the higher floor, it was obvious they could not drive out as the water was at the height of a car roof and soon her area was only accessible by boats. My brother who is staying in another part of the State was also facing rising waters in his neighbourhood and they stayed all night, stacking things to higher ground and keeping an eye on the rising water.

The worst part of the situation is that I was unable to reach them both and even I had a 4×4 pickup (which I don’t), the water was just too high for a pickup to drive through. Then my sister messages us that the electricity has been shut off at her condominium as a precaution to prevent electrocution and damage to the lift motors. And soon without electricity, the water supply stopped too. Trapped in their houses, they had to rely on whatever food that they had at home and recharge their phones using the charger in their cars. We kept in communication on each other’s progress via social media and instant messages.

Government Response: 1971 Malaysia’s Big Flood

The 1971 big flood is actually well documented and considering that it happened at a fairly modern time where there were ample ways of reporting the situation. The documentary is shown in 2 parts and it is interesting to see how the Government of the day, the military, the foreign countries and the people themselves go through the worst flood in recent years.

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The crisis was reported to be worst since the big flood of 1926 where it was said that it rained for 10 days causing major floods in the States of Pahang, Trengganu, Kelantan, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and Johore with major cities under high waters. Roads, bridges and even telecommunication were cut off leaving a lot of people stranded. It was reported that the road to Bentong was hit by at least 50 landslides.

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An interesting fact is that despite the Malaysian military especially the RMAF employed its resources for flood rescue around clock, it was not enough. Thus the US diverted some of its assets from its war in Vietnam to assist Malaysia on the flood relief missions. It was reported that USAF C-124, C-130 & C-141 transport planes, the famous UH-1 helicopters and a good number of US Army personals helped with the airlift missions of 50 outboard boats, food, medical and other supplies.

There was airlift assistance from other countries namely Australia with DC-3 transport planes and Iroquois helicopters, Singapore with Alouette helicopters and the United Kingdom with C-130 transport planes and Wessex helicopters.

Government Response: 2021 Malaysia’s Big Flood

A report by the US Embassy on the 1971 flood crisis stated this:-

Although the Government of Malaysia was without a disaster preparedness program in anticipation of such a flood disaster, it geared itself within 24 hours to deal with the emergency.

A coordinating organisation headed by the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff and a Cabinet Minister was created. It included representatives from all elements of government with a capacity to render assistance i.e. the Military Services, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Welfare, etc. In the affected states, similar state coordinating mechanisms under the direction of the Chief Minister were established.

The American Embassy reported that the Government of Malaysia marshalled an impressive rescue operation throughout the period of the floods, fully utilising its Armed Forces’capabilities, to provide helicopters, trucks and boats.

Foreign observers including American Embassy personnel close to the flood relief assistance scene were impressed with the ability of the Government of Malaysia to develop realistic requirements and to take appropriate action.

(Source)

Unfortunately despite the existence of a proper disaster management agency to deal with disasters, NADMA (National Disaster Management Agency), the 2021 flood disaster showed a severe lack of coordination and delays in managing the disaster relief efforts. There was confusion on the scope of power between the Federal and State governments. The military had to act before the formal go-ahead was given by the Government.

As widespread flooding hit five states at the weekend, the Armed Forces sprang into action on Friday, helping evacuate flood victims to relief centres, without waiting for any directive from the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), FMT has learnt.

“It came to a point, where we (the defence ministry) decided, to hell with Nadma,” the source said. “Flood waters were already rising, we were not going to wait any longer.”

So, after the Friday prayers, the Armed Forces headed to areas struck by the floods.

On Sunday evening, senior minister for defence Hishammuddin Hussein tweeted that he had briefed Armed Forces chief of staff Mohd Zakaria Yadi on the situation in Klang.

The source said Mindef (the defence ministry) was also “fed-up” with Nadma and the Selangor government.

(Source: MSN)

Fondly known as Abang Viva or Viva Brother due to the model of the car that he drove with a boat on the roof, he has been a big inspiration to many freelance rescuers out there. He is not paid or instructed to go and rescue by the Government. People like him deserve the highest award for bravery from the country. Image source: Twitter@@am_juney

In fact, the bulk of the rescue and distribution of food and essential suppliers was done by individuals and NGOs. Individuals like Azwan Omar who got an absence of leave from his employers and then travelled from Malacca with a boat loaded on his small Perodua Viva and just RM50 in his pockets (RM20 of which for the fuel for the boat) and tirelessly worked on the rescue work. He is now in Pahang to assist with the flood rescue work there.

Since the flood struck Klang Valley, the country’s industrial heartland, late on December 18, brave citizens and migrants have acted as emergency responders, rescuing people in boats from the rooftop of their inundated homes and offering food to households with young children and the elderly that do not have enough to eat as they waited to be rescued.

On Twitter, some users provided on-the-ground accounts, while others posted SOS alerts, donation drives, and emergency appeals to inform and mobilize volunteers and aid groups.

At community centers like the Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya, people across racial and age groups banded together to cook, pack, and distribute hot vegetarian meals to flood victims.

The phrase “Do Not Donate To Government” has been trending on Twitter amid growing frustration over the government’s slow response to distributing aid and other relief. People have called for donations to be channeled to civil societies instead.

(Source: The Diplomat)

There were politicians from both sides of the fence who did a great job with the flood relief missions although there were some who made fools of themselves with visiting the flooded areas but did nothing. Some were missing from showing up.

One of the best things that this Sikh temple did at the start of the flood crisis is to quickly organise themselves with the tasks that they want to do, inform on what they required and keep up the updates on the work being done by so many people from different race, religion and culture.   Image source: Twitter@Sadho

Others like Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya and Harth Iskander’s the Hope Branch (and there are hundreds more NGOs) took to themselves to cook food, get the supplies, arrange for boats & 4×4 pickups and with the cleanup process. There were convoys of 4×4 pickups from other states with volunteers to assist the relief work.

Facebook and Twitter became the key source of information on what had happened, what help had been rendered and what is required. We kept up with the latest news on Twitter instead of Government portals as these tweets were more accurate and not laced with political propaganda.

Shortcomings NADMA Disaster Management Portal

When disaster strikes, what is needed immediately is the escalation of communication so that the Government agencies, NGOs and individuals can use the information to decide on the next action. What is needed is an interactive site that can consolidate all the information and also can provide specific information.

Not known to many unless they go to the NADMA’s website, there is an interactive website that provides some form of information but it is not complete and the speed of update is doubtful.

NADMA flood interactive

The location of flood evacuation centres that have been set up to house those whose homes have been flooded and have no place to go. It has the number of people who are in the centre but it does not trigger any update on the kind of supplies that is required so that NGOs or individuals to arrange the delivery accordingly. Image source: Nadma Portal

NADMA flood interactive

The location of the actual area of flood on the map was even worse with only one icon to represent many places where it is flooded. The location of the icon is misleading as there are other places that one needs to avoid travelling to. Image source: Nadma Portal

NADMA flood interactive

The location of volunteers is simply pathetic considering that out of the so many individuals and NGOs that are operating on a 24 x 7 basis, only one is identified on the map for the whole Klang Valley. Image source: Nadma Portal

We need the big data that is driving the COVID19 interactive website to also run this disaster management website considering that there many coordination and dissemination of information that needs to be done promptly to all levels of people – from the Prime Minister, government agencies and to the man alone at home.

This for me must be one of the many moving photos considering the story behind the photo – the lone boy braved himself to wade in the dangerous flood with nothing but green underwear and a polystyrene box so that he can reach the rescue workers to get packs of food for his family. Image source: Twitter@sadiqasyraf

Final Say

One had expected a better level of readiness from the Government as they have all the resources and assets at hand – they have NADMA for disaster management & coordination that cut across both Federal and State governments.

They have the might of the military which can easily send in hundreds of water-proof armoured personal carriers into the flooded lanes or could have deployed helicopters like it was done in the 1971 flood crisis.

But instead, the lack of readiness certainly surprised many of us. It is not like it is the first the country is facing a major flood crisis for the first time. Instead, it was the individuals and NGOs that took charge of the mission.

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