We cannot stop natural disasters but we can be prepared to deal with it.

So much property wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness. The recent flood took Malaysians by surprise. Sludge water from rivers just overflowed swarming low lying areas and towns so quickly that people could not remove belongings and whatever removable on time. Worst of all the relevant authorities were caught unprepared for the disaster. There is no emergency government in place when the country was facing unprecedented flood. Government agencies were on year-end holiday mood and ministers including prime minister were on holiday.

 

This flood exposed the unpreparedness to forewarn and evict people form the low lying and near river bank settlements and towns. The government was totally absent during the flood and there was no coordination till the height of floods. Malaysians are not exposed, trained or briefed as what to do and where to look for help when faced with calamity.

Operation center or bilik gerakan does not spring up in affected areas coordinating and providing information as what are the affected areas and where are the affected people so that volunteers and relief effort can be directed. There was no central portal or website providing daily updates on flood situation, road accessibility, where relief effort is needed and victims are stranded. Besides there was no daily information on weather forecast for the different affected areas. However some websites and coordination came somewhat later.

The meteorological department issued a statement that they do not predict floods. But they can communicate a red alert effectively and forewarn of a possible flood under certain monsoon and cloud movement. If CNN can raise an alert this department has no excuse for not doing so. Please don’t pass the buck but take responsibility and improve for better service.

Malaysia’s greatest asset is its peoples’ willing to help each other without bothering about race or religion. The recent flood exposed the oneness of Malaysian spirit in times of disaster and the government’s hypocrisy of dividing the people into race and religion. Flood victims could see the Malaysian spirit and many commended on multiracial spirit of Malaysians. But the government controlled media are immersed in government propaganda that they overlook or just ignore these developments.

The current National Security Council must be dismissed as a total flop and replaced with disaster management experts who can formulate the institutional frameworks and standard operating procedures in the event of any natural calamity. Deforestation in east coast states must be stopped immediately. The need for disaster preparedness planning has never been more important in view of the climate change. Besides we have skyscrapers and multilevel flyovers and highways. Malaysians should be trained as to the operating procedures and coordination should there be a natural or manmade disaster.

It is time for Malaysian government to set a National Institute of Disaster Management for training and capacity development programs for managing natural disasters. Instead government agencies are putting up budget to buy more helicopters and boats for future floods. Government needs to set a team to study the weakness and unpreparedness and inquire why the meteorological department, National Security Council and Natural Disaster committee failed to forewarn, coordinate and manage the sudden flood before allocating money for purchases of assets.

Let’s learn from many other disaster affected and prone countries as to how to survive natural calamities and other catastrophic emergences. Climate change and man-made emergency events has to be taken seriously and the public must be trained and be prepared to face. Residents in local communities can come up with community based disaster preparedness measures by themselves. Even universities can be mobilized to research on Environment and Disaster Risk management and provide courses. Therefore a national institute of disaster management can lead the way towards better preparedness to facing calamities.

Explore posts in the same categories: From the desk of Senator S Ramakrishnan

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