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Challenges In Flood Disasters Management In Malaysia

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Weng Chan (Minden, Malaysia)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 11: Key vulnerabilities and security risks,
Article: Oral:
AbstractFloods are the main disaster affecting Malaysia as the country is influenced by seasonal monsoon floods (the most serious) as well as flash floods and tidal floods. Flood disasters have brought severe impacts on the people affecting livelihoods, damaging properties and infrastructures, and killing lives. The annual flood damage is about US$274 million and lives are loss every year. The methodology involves a combination of desktop studies using secondary published government flood data, flood reports, published papers and a preliminary questionnaire survey on flood victims, and qualitative interviews with key stakeholders. Results show that flood disaster management in Malaysia has traditionally been over-focused on a top-down government-centric approach. This was workable in the past when population was sparse and the public largely made up of lowly educated citizens, and the role of NGOs and civil society limited in scope. It is time for a radical change towards a more people-friendly "horizontal" or "bottom-up" approach. People, especially disaster victims, need to be engaged and empowered to be more resilient. If not, they remain highly dependent on government aid and this is not what the Malaysian Government wants. When the public (who are the victims) are actively engaged and involved, it will enhance their ability to respond to flood or other disasters effectively and appropriately.

The Malaysian flood authorities should engage local communities as they have rich experience. Local leaders such as village heads can provide information and mobilise people on the ground and advise the authorities when distributing relief goods, reconstruction material, or other benefits. Some things to avoid include rushing in with reconstruction without recycling useful materials from the disaster site, bulldozing over what could be valuable building materials, and rushing in quickly to implement adhoc plans. For example, establishing new institutions in short time frames, or developing complex and inflexible project designs are not encouraged. The authorities should always use familiar disaster management plans and systems with the local officials/leaders. Another thing to avoid is to relocate people away from their jobs and social contacts. This is useless as they would eventually return. The authorities should also be sensitive as not to impose grief counseling where it is found to be inappropriate, especially in the context of multi-ethnic Malaysia with multi-cultural beliefs. The National Disaster Response Mechanism (NDRM) is largely targeted for handling monsoon flooding. Consequently, this mechanism is less than effective and should be re-modelled into something more pro-active. There is also seriously lacking in terms of stakeholders participation, although the authorities have recognised the important role of NGOs, particularly that of MERCY, Red Cross, Red Crescent and other NGOs. Capacity building is necessary. The disaster management mechanism should also adopt more non-structural measures, adopt state-of-the-art technology and cooperate internationally with other countries for addressing transboundary disasters. In terms of flood warning, there are many areas which can still be improved. While the total number of telemetric stations for rainfall and river flow in the country seems large enough, a closer scrutiny would expose the inadequacies of uneven distribution. Most telemetric stations are located in populated areas while the sparsely populated areas, especially highland watershed areas, do not have enough telemetric stations. The Malaysian Meteorological Department and the Drainage and Irrigation Department have also not utilised remotely sensed rainfall (radar and satellite sensed rainfall) as an input in its forecasting models.

Legislation related to flood control should also be improved. While there are currently some laws governing the regulation of river use (eg. the Waters Enactment 1920, the Mining Enactment 1929, the Drainage Works Ordinance 1954, and the Land Conservation Act 1960, and others) and have some bearing on flood mitigation, they are not sufficiently clear or forceful enough as measures of flood mitigation. Flood insurance is poorly developed in Malaysia, despite the country been flood-prone. In developed countries, flood insurance is an integral part of overall flood management. Another point is the need to create a data management system (e.g. a data bank) and a more systematic communication system in flood disaster management. This disaster data bank could be managed in a GIS environment and be put on the National Security Council's website for all disaster organisations to access.

In conclusion, flood hazard management in Malaysia must be viewed in the context of its rapid development. Malaysia is a newly-industrialising country in which the pace of social, economic and political change is fast, as is the pace of physical and environmental change. Other things being equal, these are the contexts in which flood hazards can be magnified and mismanaged. The contexts themselves are also changing, and changing physical systems have given rise to increased risk, exposure and vulnerability to flood hazards. Other contexts, largely structural, such as persistent poverty, low residential and occupational mobility, landlessness, and ethnic culture have also contributed to increased vulnerability to flood hazards amongst specific communities, mainly the poor. Thus, in order to better manage floods and move towards greater flood loss reduction, flood management must be given a higher salience on official agendas. In a country where poverty reduction and income equity amongst all races are targets of achievement, the reduction of flood loss appears to be an important vehicle towards achieving those targets. This is because the poor are the most vulnerable to flooding in Malaysia and any substantial increase in flood protection and flood loss reduction will reduce the income gap between the rich and the poor. A more pro-active and dynamic approach towards flood management should be adopted encompassing a multi-disciplinary approach combining structural and non-structural measures. Employment of legislation to control floodplain encroachment is vital for sustainable development and to manage flood hazards. Floods Disasters need to be reduced as they put a tremendous strain on the country's economy, exacerbate poverty and income inequity, and delay its efforts to become a developed country by the year 2020.

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