Whither our disaster response? — Amar Singh HSS

JUNE 7 — Our hearts goes out to all those who suffered (and are still suffering) from the Mount Kinabalu earthquake crisis, especially the 100 plus climbers and guides that were stranded on the peak. Those of us who have made the climb in the past know how cold it can get. Even worse without food, at night, immobile and with gusting winds.

True, we are a country with few natural disasters, but all the recent ones, including the floods, have shown how inadequate and delayed are our country's emergency response systems. For example some Orang Asli villages affected by the floods have yet to receive a single visit by a government agency. Fortunately NGOs with generous aid from Malaysians have been supporting them.

The earthquake was unpredictable and a natural disaster. Our poor and inadequate response to the disaster, however, is not acceptable. This was a man-made disaster; or rather a government-made disaster.

And our primary concern is: Did anyone die due to our slow response rather than from the earthquake?

Now that eyewitness accounts are emerging to confirm the lack of support from emergency services it is time for a transparent audit of the crisis management of this disaster. We, the Malaysian tax-paying-voting-public, would like the following important questions answered:

1 The earthquake occurred just after 7am. What time did emergency and rescue services get alerted?

2 Who coordinated the rescue?

3 What time were the helicopters dispatched?

4 How was information on the disaster coordinated and shared? Who was responsible?

5 Why did the helicopters not reach the climbers when eyewitness accounts state the weather was good?

The critical element in this disaster is the risk of hypothermia due to the height and exposed conditions. The earthquake hit at 7.15am. We would expect the helicopters to be dispatched with urgent supplies (blankets, food, heating equipment, communication devices, etc) within 2-3 hours; even this would be considered slow. What time did the first rescue helicopter leave?

Those stranded were made to wait nine hours before being told no help was coming. Their condition weakened by cold and hunger, they then had to make the perilous journey down, made worse by darkness. This is totally unacceptable. A decision that help could not reach them should have been made much earlier, to capitalise on light and strength.

Our hearts go out to the courage of our local mountain guides who made all the difference and rescued so many. You make all of us proud to be Malaysians. I hope that they will receive the support they require in the coming weeks of unemployment.

Our leaders are not open to being questioned and held accountable for their failures; in the same way our civil services are often not held accountable for their failures. Please restore our faith in our essential services by either providing good evidence that everything humanly possible was done or else by a frank admission of failure and a serious revamp of our services.

We require compassionate, dynamic and efficient leaders to run our country. Not ones that offer only lip service.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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