DECEMBER 23 — Yesterday, I left Teluk Intan and headed to Bidor, and along the way witnessed flooded homes and agricultural land. 

Incomparable to the pain experienced by those in Selangor’s Taman Sri Muda presently — or Kuala Kangsar and Kuala Krai seven years ago — but what struck me most was the casual reaction among residents.

The people of Teluk Intan grudgingly accept cyclical flooding as part and parcel of living there. 

Selva, the former lorry driver turned hotel guard due to a workplace injury, spoke about the floods during Deepavali forcing his family out of their home with no irony. It’s par for the course. A visual inspection of town centre drainage confirms the veracity of Teluk Intan being flood-prone.

Increasingly more and more spots in Malaysia have joined that list, places in Malaysia likely to flood badly.

Chilling out with Selva at his guard post outside K Boutique Hotel, Teluk Intan. — Picture by Michael Linde
Chilling out with Selva at his guard post outside K Boutique Hotel, Teluk Intan. — Picture by Michael Linde

Malaysians are furious it is becoming a matter of when rather than if. Our timelines are overpouring with accusations of inept crisis leadership and bureaucratic roadblocks

While emergency response and governmental support for victims remain critical — with plenty of room for improvement — the more pertinent discussion must prevail. What to do to reduce floods. The willingness to commit the investments for flood adaptation.

So that Malaysians are not literally left to Nature’s will.

Opposition MPs asked for the floods to be debated in Parliament. The Speaker said nobody submitted a motion but what spoke volumes was the public’s disinterest in Pakatan Harapan’s eagerness to bitch about flood waters. 

What would have transpired in the denied floor debate, other than for those out of government to point to the government’s incapacity to cope?

A chance for them to hammer their political opponents.

I’m unkind to Pakatan because this is not an issue championed by them. It was absent during their two-year reign.

The rakyat would be thrilled to hear from both government and Opposition on how to prevent future floods. And with Asean countries already taking mitigation action due to flooding, like Indonesia moving its capital to Borneo in anticipation of Jakarta eventually inundated by seawater, Malaysian politicians might want to zero in on actually useful policy discussions.

No one champions it because the solution is a large investment. It takes away from other spendings. With a national Budget where half of it pays civil servants — active and retired — it takes the conversation to places no politician wants to be in.   


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) categorises flood adaptation measures to 1) the flood-proofing of buildings, (2) flood protection, (3) beach nourishment and dunes, (4) nature-based solutions for coastal ecosystems, (5) channel management and nature-based solutions for riverine systems, and (6) urban drainage.

Jeroen CJH Aerts surmises the prices vary based on locality but regardless they are sizable in financial outlay.

It costs at least RM800,000 to flood proof a building in the United States. In a like for like, it costs more than RM5 million for every kilometre of a one metre dike in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. It costs upwards of RM80 million to widen any small rural river system in the United Kingdom, which involves excavating river floodplains.

Malaysia would require a combination of flood adaptation, not the least the restructure of drainage in almost all our towns.

When they are totalled, a tidy amount has to be set aside to deal with cyclical floods. Where’s the money going to come from?

The various efforts will be local, and therefore local councils rather than government agencies have to coordinate efforts even if multiple participants contribute to the completion. 

The very nature of our local councils has to be forcibly changed in order for them to be more proactive about flooding and prioritise community involvement in decision making.

Only if the funding and capacity to execute match will the endeavour hit maximum efficacy.

It’s becoming more and more self-evident that Malaysia’s problems and prognosis of future turbulence demand more capable leadership and not just a mob of people with the ability to over-exhibit piety.

But let’s not distract from the key component while demanding a change in culture, it would require finances, a lot of it.

No time-travel permitted

In Hulu Langat, Taman Sri Nanding community has begun the rebuilding in style. — Picture via Facebook
In Hulu Langat, Taman Sri Nanding community has begun the rebuilding in style. — Picture via Facebook

Readers may state these floods are caused by unconscionable deforestation and commercial driven thoroughly unplanned developments. They are invariably true; however, those actions are unretractable.

Go ahead, shout louder when your menteri besar speaks about responsible logging to top up state finances and break into the local council board meetings to quiz why one more development is approved, but the flood situation as it stands requires funding to be resolved.

This country can only benefit from more asking, however, uncomfortable.

Like if I were to ask why a country with inadequate resources to pay for flood adaptation even in its own capital region seems adamant to have three of the top 25 skyscrapers in the world?

Both Petronas Twin Towers remain below optimal use, and now PNB’s Merdeka 118 jumps into the list at number two, and TRX has to settle for a paltry 23rd position in the list.

Merdeka 118, floor 118 is a VIP lounge. Mere mortals can only get to the view-deck a floor below. I guess the kayangan crowd (elites) want a better view of our floods and our aquatic skills in them.

Their time to pay the price may still be at hand.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.