Malaysiakini Letter

Floods and landslides: The need for comprehensive solutions

Academy of Sciences Malaysia  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Malaysia has experienced a spate of water-related calamities occurring with increased frequency and greater magnitudes.

Some of the more recent events are the Oct 21 landslide at the hillslope building project in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, that claimed the lives of 11 construction workers, and the floods of unprecedented magnitude that hit Penang and parts of Kedah following torrential rains on Nov 4 and 5.

These floods have to-date, claimed 7 lives and based on media reports, some 10,000 people were evacuated to flood relief centres. Economic and financial losses to public and private property and businesses, including to agriculture producers, have yet be ascertained but estimated to run into hundreds of millions ringgit.

Causes of these catastrophes can largely be attributed to improper land development activities, the lack of effective enforcement at construction sites and unprecedented rainfall.

While Kedah and Penang are still reeling from the damage inflicted by these devastating events and the ensuing repair and rehabilitation works, reports have surfaced of north-east monsoon-related storms hitting the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, causing the Golok Rover to swell and flood low-lying areas along the river.

Two deaths have been reported to date. Monsoonal rains have since persisted and floods have now spread across the East Coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, and are now reported to also be impacting the North-West states of Perlis, Kedah and Perak.

Water-related hazards are expected to worsen in the future due to the impact of impending climate change - the consequences of the predicted global warming which leads to weather extremes. These are priority issues of national importance that require comprehensive solutions for long-term sustainability.

Water, just like land, forests, minerals, inland fisheries, wildlife, and marine parks, are part of the country’s natural resources to be utilised in a sustainable manner while safeguarding dependent terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The symbiotic relationship among the resources, and especially between water and land, must be fully recognised and considered in land and industrial planning and development activities.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

The way forward is for the current fragmented management of natural resources to make way for holistic and integrated land and water resource management.

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) has since the year 2008, undertaken an in-depth thematic study pertaining to the water sector, which also involved strategic consultations with a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private, NGO and community sectors.

The extensive knowledge base gained through these studies has enabled ASM to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to address the issues and challenges facing the Malaysian water sector, including addressing the above water-related hazards, climate change and an integrated river basin management plan with the appropriate strategies proposed.

ASM endorses the adoption of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) principle as embodied in the National Water Resources Policy (2012) document as the central philosophy in managing the water sector, be it for the purpose of “water as a resource” or for “water for livelihoods”.

ASM calls for urgent concerted efforts towards the implementation of IWRM nation-wide both at the federal and state administrative levels. 

Improved water governance to enable integrated action at various levels and investments in water infrastructure are also recommended. The overall plan implementation is best overseen at the highest political level by the National Water Resources Council with a dedicated implementation unit established to ensure effective and efficient management and timely completion and delivery of the plan.

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

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