FLOODS are wont to separate, but Penang’s Saturday deluge brought the nation together. A call for a helping hand by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and, moments later, the armed forces sprang into action. Parties are just a separation in a Malaysian political mind, it so appeared. The speed with which Putrajaya got into action to save lives and limbs spoke volumes of how the nation comes together in the hour of need. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was there in Penang, soothing troubled souls. “Our priority is the flood victims. We will ensure the best is given to them,” he said.
This paper is moved by the non-partisan joining of the forces of the Federal Government and Penang government to rush to the aid of the people in the state. Serving the people is a bigger cause, and, quite rightly so. But, this display of magnanimity must also come with some institutional introspection, both at the state and national levels country-wide. Because, extreme weather is no longer an occasional climate show.
This introspection must begin with asking basic questions: What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? What can be done to stop it from going wrong again? It is now clear that extreme weather in Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia is a result of global warming, a direct result of climate change. This paper has previously put forth ideas that must be adopted at the national and individual levels. But, climate change is something we have known for many years. The Meteorological Department had said it issued a warning on Nov 1, but could it have done more? It is quite clear to laymen like us that the heavy rainfall would have been picked up by the department’s radar screen. Thunderstorms are large swirling winds that professional weathermen would have known to be dangerous. We do not wish to speculate, but the Saturday deluge would be lesson enough for many, institutions or otherwise. Some say the Penang deluge was caused by a cyclone, and, it was not the first cyclone to hit Peninsular Malaysia, either. The Johor floods in December 2001 were also said to be due to a cyclone.
State governments, though they have the legal authority to disregard federal advice, as was done in the case of Penang when the state cast aside the Department of Environment’s advice to not go ahead with the hillside development in Tanjung Bungah, must learn to listen to voices of reason. Landslides are not an infrequent thing in Malaysia anymore; they seem to keep a date with thunderstorms and tropical storms. Development at the expense of environmental preservation is something the state must stop. Hillslope development must be a no-no. Cutting into foothills and calling it a flatland to get quick approvals must be monitored by the authorities. The state should not allow such projects to slip, slide away from their stamp of disapproval. Tanjung Bungah may have appeared good on paper, but now we know it is not so on the ground.