KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Earlier this week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a worrying report on climate change, warning that humanity may have a mere 12 years in order to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Currently, the world has already warmed up by 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial times. And just like the rest of the globe, the impact on Malaysia from floods, storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events are already apparent.
In the two-decade period between 1998 and August this year, Malaysia experienced 51 natural disaster events — with two floods recorded this year alone.
In that period, over 3 million people have been affected and 281 people have died.
The damages incurred have been severe: Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) collected by Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) showed that Malaysia has sustained a total damage of nearly US$2 billion (RM8 billion) in that period.
To put that into context, RM8 billion is around eight times the total value of cash and luxury items seized from former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s homes.
RM8 billion could pay for more than a year’s worth of the 1Malaysia Financial Aid (BR1M). It is more than what Putrajaya could save from reviewing the MRT2 project.
Malaysia’s biggest problem — floods
Most of the carnage in Malaysia has been caused by floods, making up 38 out of the total 51 natural disasters in that period, or roughly three-quarters — considerably more than the global average of over 43 per cent.
In the last two decades, floods have affected over 770,000 people, killed 148 people, and caused US$1.4 billion or roughly RM5.82 billion in damages.
When compared to the total damage over the period, floods have contributed to around 70 per cent of the damage to Malaysia.
It caused over half of the total deaths from natural disasters over that period.
Out of the 38 occurrences of floods in that period, 20 of them happened at rivers compared to just eight cases of flash floods.
The biggest flood in recent memory was also the worst, affecting 2.3 million people.
In 2015, the National Security Council (NSC) also declared the floods — which mostly affected Kelantan and several places in the east coast of Malaysia — the worst, superseding the 1967 flood.
According to the council’s report, the water level of Sungai Kelantan at Tambatan DiRaja, which has a danger level of 25 metres, reached 34.17 metres in the 2014 flood compared to 29.70 metres in 2004 and 33.61 metres in 1967.
The levels at Tangga Krai, which has a danger level of 5 metres, reached 7.03 metres compared to 6.70 metres in 2004 and 6.22 metres in 1967.
NSC secretary Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab told Malay Mail two factors contributed towards the tragedy: “One is the changing climatic patterns and the adverse weather effects. Second, could be the result of uncontrolled land management and the swelling number of trees and exploitation of land resources.”
How Malaysia compares with the world
Calculating the mean of damages of each year over the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for that year, the average damage suffered by Malaysia over that period was 0.13 per cent of our GDP.
Comparatively, the amount and proportion was miniscule, compared to the biggest disasters across the world.
A joint report titled “Economic Losses, Poverty and Disasters — 1998-2017” by CRED and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction based on the same data revealed that 1.3 million people were killed while a further 4.4 billion were left injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance from natural disasters.
Although the majority of the fatalities were caused by earthquakes and tsunamis, 91 per cent of the disasters were caused by extreme weather events.
The United States lost US$944.8 billion in that period, followed by China (US$492.2 billion) and Japan (US$376.3 billion).
But when measured relative to their GDP figures, Haiti was the biggest loser with average damages costing 17.5 per cent of its GDP, followed by Puerto Rico (12.2 per cent) and North Korea (7.4 per cent).
Have things taken a turn for the worst?
Of the top 10 disasters in the history of Malaysia that affected the most people, six of them happened in that period.
The most number of people affected was during the drought in March 2014, which affected over 2 million people — or around 7 per cent of the 30 million population that year.
Similarly, six out of 10 most damaging disasters had happened in that period as well, with the most damaging disaster being the January 2007 flood, costing the country US$605 million in damages, or roughly RM2.5 billion.
It is a slightly different story with deaths, with the 2004 earthquake and tsunami the deadliest disaster in the last two decades — killing 80 people.
The deadliest ever disaster to hit Malaysia was the 1996 storm, killing 270 people, followed by two epidemics in 1991 and 1998 — rather than natural disaster — that killed 263 and 105 people respectively.
But a striking trend could be seen by comparing the number of natural disaster occurrences in Malaysia since its formation.
Prior to Malaysia’s rapid industrialisation period in the 1990s, recorded natural disasters were pretty rare, after which disasters took place with increasingly regularity and magnitude.
A Merdeka Center survey published in 2017 had shown that the majority of Malaysians are concerned about climate change and dissatisfied with the government’s efforts in managing it.
The survey showed that 81 per cent of Malaysians expressed worry about climate change after facing 2016 — then the hottest year ever recorded at 1.1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial revolution average.
The IPCC report has laid out pathways to achieve the goal of maintaining the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit, which basically means drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at a breakneck pace — such as using renewable energy source, and switching over to electricity especially for transport.
With the new Pakatan Harapan government, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin has pledged in July that the global warming will continue be Putrajaya’s priority.
Yeo said Putrajaya will introduce an Energy Efficiency Bill next year to help Malaysia cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 in compliance with the Paris climate accord.
But Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration has also been pushing for a new national car project, and flirting with harnessing the coal reserves from Sabah.
Non-profit group CDP’s Carbon Majors Report released last year also pointed out that just 100 companies globally have been the source of more than seven in 10 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
At number 26 in the list was state oil and gas giant Petroliam Nasional Berhad, or Petronas.