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In April 2021, the claim by minister in charge of environment that Malaysia is not a climate vulnerable country surprised many of us. Apparently now, the same minister claimed Malaysian government is serious in dealing with climate change issues where RM 392 billion is needed to overcome flood problems via long term measures up to year 2100. If we look back to the past 3 decades, many permeable areas are converted into non permeable zones where drainage and flood mitigation is a must. Even a small piece of land is converted into highrise buildings and some alleged conversion of designated retention pond areas into development zones. Thus, one should not easily place ‘Act of God’ as reasoning for the flood situation without exhausting scientific evidences.

Climate and Development

Tropical rainforest climate like Malaysia are prone to flood as it is part of our water cycle. The monsoons, el Nino, la Nina and other regional weather patterns are part and parcel of our climate. Pristine virgin forest delays flow of rainwater using the natural peat soil as a sponge. Natural mitigations like lakes, ponds, wetlands and fresh water swamps will play a vital role as well.

Human civilisation usually develops closer to water sources and get exposed to flooding risk. However, under the name of development, the natural flood mitigation areas are removed and replaced with smaller retention ponds and for some cases with flood mitigation projects that only cover a small portion of the flood prevention capacity. Degazetting forest reserves, opening up new mining projects and quarries, logging as well as large monocrop plantation do worsen the flooding.

We also see the rise in misrepresentation of water surge (kepala air), mud flood (puing) and other disasters induced by human activities are now being tagged with ‘Act of God’ tagline. If these incidents take place in the heart of pristine forest, it is a natural occurrence. The basic thing we need to understand is that humans are the one who destroy the forests for development activities and do not replace the flood mitigation ability of the lost forest and its supporting systems properly. Thus, it is inane to blame the Creator for our own doings that worsen the flood situation.

Land Use Change is State Government’s Jurisdiction

Land use is state matter that is implemented by local authorities. When a development proposal comes in, the local authority must get feedback and recommendations from Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID). However the implementation of drainage and flood prevention measures is very much depending on the dealing between local authority and developers or landowners. Thus, we need to audit this process to find the gap between recommendations from DID and actual implementation by local authorities.

Secondly, major flood mitigation projects are based on existing planning for a particular location. If major changes occur and increases surface runoff rapidly, the mitigation project will not be able to handle flood occurrence effectively. Downstream areas that have dams and major flood pumping stations (including SMART tunnel) might also be affected due to release of water and pumping. When the entire river basin is receiving rainfall, the sped up water movement by infrastructure such as SMART tunnel may increase the flooding risk at the downstream. Thus, remodeling of the flooding risk is vital.

Climate Change and Rise of Sea Level

Rapid loss of ‘natural flood barriers’ causes flooding to continue to increase in frequency as well as size of impacted areas. Climate change may not be entirely responsible for our erratic weather pattern. Rise in sea level and high tide may cause coastal flooding and it does not reach far inland to the upstream of river basin. Thus, using climate change, rise of sea level and high tide as reasons of flood occurrence must be backed with proper scientific facts.

Predicting future floods and droughts to develop suitable mitigation actions is a must. It is vital to simulate past erratic weather patterns and current flood situations. This simulation is to predict change in weather pattern and to identify if there is any impact from climate change and the degree of interference. It is important to determine if there is a predictable pattern of change. If there is a clear pattern it will assist to estimate mitigation project design with a recommended safety factor so that the cost can be optimised. In case there is no direct pattern, it will lead to high cost mitigation measures as we need to place higher safety factors in mitigation project design as well as resettlement of high risk zones to new locations.

Supercomputers and Data Centre

The Auditor General must audit the procurement of supercomputers for flood modeling and its operation against implementation timeline, information dissemination as well as worst case scenario operation. Last week, it was announced that there was a data centre cooling system malfunction and it impacts optimal operation of flood forecasting and warning. When the data centre system is a national security operation and involves lives, there should always be reliability factor emphasized. Thus, the Auditor General must also investigate the incident and report it to the Parliament.

In conclusion, we must accept that flood and drier weather will be part and parcel of our climate moving forward. The erratic and unpredictable weather patterns will always be a new challenge that scientific, engineering and administration community in Malaysia will have to face. Similarly, it is also these communities’ responsibility to work cohesively to protect our people, nation and its economy from the negative impacts. Humans are innovative and resilient. If ancient civilisations have withstood these challenges with very basic technological applications, we definitely can do a better job with advanced technology. Again, the severity of flood occurrence and its impacts are due to human intervention.

Piarapakaran S.
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER)

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