Government agencies sleeping on the job

Malaysia is facing an unprecedented flood in decades. More than 200,000 people have been evacuated and many motorists stranded on both sides of the flooded East Cost Expressway for days. The heavy northeast monsoon rainfalls are expected to cause maximum damage to the east coast states.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was on vacation in Hawaii, had to cut short his holiday and return on Dec 27. He then announced an additional 500 million ringgit to aid victims after the flood subsides, following an initial government allocation of 50 million ringgit two days earlier.

 

Malaysians are disappointed that despite heavy rainfall of this scale, they did not receive any warning alert by the meteorology department and the national disaster management and relief committee.

The deputy prime minister too was overseas and returned on Dec 25 to receive a briefing from the National Security Council. By the time the PM and DPM had got their briefing and issued media statements, major towns in the east coast had already been submerged.

Why didn’t the national disaster committee, the National Security Council or even the meteorological department issue an alert well before the floods occurred? If cyclones and hurricanes can be forecasted days before they arrive, heavy rainfall too can be forecasted.

Early warning by the national weather centre on the forthcoming floods could have alerted residents to move out and all other flood relief efforts could have been made much earlier, thus reducing the economic losses suffered by flood victims.

CNN had reported one week earlier that strong high pressure developing over Eastern Europe and China, strengthening northeasterly winds from the South China Sea, would bring heavier rainfall over Malaysia, Indonesia and southern Thailand. And it was going to get worse. Another 100 millimetres (4 inches) of rain could fall over the next two days near the Malaysia-Thailand border, it said.

If CNN could give early warnings, why didn’t the Malaysian meteorology department too? Are  the National Disaster Management Committee, meteorological department and National Security Council sleeping on the job? Had they informed earlier, the Prime Minister too would not have gone to Hawaii to play golf with the US president.

All these events only confirm that our government agencies are totally unprepared for any disasters. They can do very little for people should any calamity happen.

It was only on Dec 28 that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the standard operating procedures on national disaster management would be reviewed to increase efficiency in weather forecasting. He further added that Malaysia should learn from other countries’ disaster management systems, especially those of Japan and Korea. He also called for more waterways, canals and drains to be built.

Such a call in the middle of a crisis only confirms that the meteorology department, National Security Council and the National Disaster Management Committee are sleeping on the job. All these should have been done many years ago, not now when confronted with the worst flood ever.

Global warming and weather changes are not new phenomena. We all heard about the EL NINO effect on global climate change a long time ago which Malaysia too will have to face.

But the Malaysian agencies have not upgraded their weather forecasting, communication systems and skills. Because of the government’s failure to forewarn the flood-prone areas, many people were caught unprepared and could not remove their belongings.

On top of the 500 million allocated are other economic losses which will run into hundreds of millions in these challenging times. All these could have been reduced by timely warnings, but these the government agencies failed miserably to do. Let’s hope this despair at unsatisfactory standard operating procedures is taken seriously. Necessary changes should be brought about and problems not swept under the carpet.

 

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