Malaysiakini Letter

Better development planning needed to face changing weather patterns

Penang Forum  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Penang Forum deeply empathises with the suffering that many Penangites and Kedahans have had to endure over the unprecedented flash floods and landslide mishaps that happened over the weekend of Nov 4 and 5, 2017.

We also greatly appreciate the very prompt and concerted efforts by the state, local and federal governments, the emergency response teams, community groups and NGOs who have so valiantly stepped forward to respond to the crisis and to alleviate the difficulties faced by the flood victims.

The weather phenomenon that affected Penang and southern parts of Kedah recently was very unusual. From the Intellicast wind pattern map on the afternoon of Nov 4, two separate storm systems are clearly visible in South East Asia; one over Vietnam (Typhoon Damrey) and another one in the northern Malacca Straits over Penang.

This second vortex was created by the cold north-east wind from the Gulf of Thailand meeting the warmer wind and rain clouds from the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea, thereby creating a violent swirling storm system.

It would seem that the direct cause of the storm and heavy rains experienced on Nov 4 to 5 is this vortex over Penang, although the side effects of Typhoon Damrey cannot be ruled out.

It is important to take cognisance of this unusual phenomenon because it has not been known or reported to have occurred before, and may portend to more of such phenomena to happening in the future, which will bode more difficult times for Penang and its surroundings.

While we may not be able to prevent storms and inclement weather from occurring in the future, we can, however, work to prevent them from resulting in flash floods and landslide disasters.

In this regard, it is crucial that development and land use is carried out with due consideration given to changing weather patterns and Penang’s fragile natural environment.

The Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Engh, in announcing the 2018 budget recently, said that the state would take more pro-active measures to prevent landslides and not just crisis management.

In this spirit, and in view of new risks posed by climate change, we urge the Penang state government two things.

In the short term, to place a moratorium on all development projects that involve hill cutting while carrying out inspections and monitoring on hillslope developments that are currently ongoing to ensure that safety measures are adequate.

In the long term, to broaden the scope of developmental planning so as to take into account the full range of factors, both natural and manmade that lead to landslides and flash floods.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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