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12:25pm 10/03/2022
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The role of corruption, overdevelopment and lack of maintenance in flooding
By:Mariam Mokhtar

Malaysia’s flood management is a joke. Sometimes, it appears as if we do not want to learn lessons from previous floods.

The head of the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) Abdul Latiff Ahmad is better at making excuses for his slow response to the flooding last month in Shah Alam.

If one were to ask a PAS politician to comment about flooding in an area, he will claim that the floods happened because God is punishing us.

Yesterday, there was non-stop rain in Kuala Lumpur which resulted in many parts of the city being flooded. If we were to follow PAS’ logic, was everyone in KL committing sins?

The floods are an annual occurrence, so if we are taken unawares, we need only to blame ourselves for lacking preparation.

Whilst Malaysians are quick to point out that climate change is one cause of the floods, we must not forget the role played by corruption, overdevelopment, lack of maintenance and incompetent officials.

What happens in other parts of Malaysia is probably repeated on a much larger scale in Kuala Lumpur.

Some years ago, after flooding seriously affected some parts of Ipoh, meetings were arranged with key officials so that future floods were better managed.

The allegation was that the Ipoh City Council (Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh, MBI) and Department of Irrigation (DID) personnel who attended these meetings were clueless, and were not the decision makers.

The whole exercise was a waste of everyone’s time. In the end, a second meeting had to be arranged with employees who were trained personnel and those who had the authority to act on the proposals.

Does the same ignorance and incompetence happen in the aftermath of floods in KL? Are senior professionals too busy to attend? Why can’t the people who arrange these meetings realize that we need people of expertise and seniority to solve the problem?

When flooding occurs, we blame God or climate change. Why not corruption?

Malaysian civil servants and politicians may purchase the latest machinery but often forget maintenance of the equipment.

We often hear about faulty pumps at retention ponds. Are our pumps and other equipment regularly maintained? Do we have the trained staff to do this? Do staff realize the importance of maintenance?

Last month, the DID denied that it had sold flood retention ponds situated on government land. If this allegation is proven true, then this is corruption. It is a case of wealth before peoples’ safety.

Why should the land which plays a necessary part of the flood management system be sold off to a developer? The land should have been retained by the state for use as a detention pond when the river overflows its banks.

In the past, some civil servants have alleged that when they are asked to appraise a development project, they often reject a development proposal because it is unsuitable, perhaps because it involves building on known flood plains or hillsides.

The civil servants claim that cronies with powerful friends in government, will apply pressure from the top to gain approval for the project.

In the end, the project which had been failed by professionals such as town planners, architects or engineers, was given the go-ahead.

Buildings on slopes or wet plains happen because the developer has a powerful political friend.

When flooding occurs, we blame God or climate change. Why not corruption?

What happens to Ipoh is probably replicated on a larger scale in bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur.

Certain parts of Ipoh are heavily built-up. It is highly probable that developers find it too costly to increase the size of drains with the increased development.

This failure to have bigger drains prevents the fast and efficient flow of rainwater to rivers. In the end, smaller drains overflow their sides and spill over to the roads.

Some house owners pave their gardens, thus preventing rainwater from being absorbed into the soil. This makes buildings and roads more susceptible to flooding.

The authorities may blame flooding on “climate change”, but they neglect their duties to clear the drains and prevent blockages by clearing the vegetation which grows in and around the drains.

They are slow to clear branches, dead animals and rubbish from culverts and monsoon drains.

During flash floods, the huge deluge of debris washed downriver by strong currents will damage vulnerable bridges and other riverside structures.

A good flood warning system helps. The meteorological department will issue warnings of storms and heavy rains, but it is not their responsibility to make preparations for flooding.

That is the role of the government and agencies like NADMA.

Villagers living near riverbanks and tidal estuaries often complain about legal and illegal developments in their areas.

More often than not, their complaints fall on deaf ears. If the authorities listened, perhaps serious flooding could have been avoided.

Some politicians with close links to businessmen are directly responsible for the destruction of the environment.

They approve development projects in environmentally sensitive areas. They are slow to help victims in their constituencies.

During floods, victims are critical about politicians who visit for publicity purposes and who hand out food packets featuring a photo of the politician on the packaging.

Apart from that, do local authorities dredge our rivers to prevent silting which creates bottlenecks at certain points along the river?

Illegal timber merchants denude the forest and destroy hillslopes by clearing all the vegetation from the site.

Without roots to hold the soil together, the unrestrained flow of water down the hillsides will cause mudslides which result in the destruction of life, buildings and vegetation.

Climate change is a contributory factor for floods, but do not forget that corruption, overdevelopment and incompetence play major roles in making the floods worse.

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

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Mariam Mokhtar
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