Sluggish response to catastrophic floods raises many questions

COMMENT by Azril Annuar
The Malaysian Insider
5 January 2015

Total and utter devastation – this, in essence, describes the situation in the East Coast, which bore the brunt of the worst flooding to hit the country in decades. An estimated 150,000 people have been affected, and hundreds of homes lost. Entire villages have been practically wiped out in Kuala Krai, Manek Urai and Dabong, among the worst-hit areas in Kelantan.

Roads and bridges have been destroyed and communications lines cut. Wireless telecommunication has been reduced to the most basic levels. Electricity was cut off for days and treated water supply is still not back.

The only time I had seen a disaster of this scale was during the earthquake in Padang, Indonesia, about five years ago. For my editor, Terence Fernandez, the scenes of houses piled up on top of one another is comparable with the scenario in Aceh following the tsunami of 2004.

A scene closer to home with similar impact but on a smaller scale would be the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide that took several lives during Hari Raya Haji back in 2009.

However, the difference between all these disaster areas and the chaos we have witnessed in Kuala Krai and Manek Urai is quite simple: The aftermath of the other disasters was managed expeditiously.

It would be unfair to make a comparison between Padang and Aceh and the situation in Kelantan as the devastation in those two places was more widespread and they received far more international aid.

Even so, the response to the two disasters was still more efficient although the magnitude of the disasters in terms of lives lost and area affected was bigger.

My comparison is closer to home – the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide.

Comparatively, the tragic incident in 2009 happened on a far smaller scale than the widespread chaos of the year-end floods of 2014 which affected nine states.

However, the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide brought out the military engineering corps and a strong military and police presence. The authorities were there in full force to organise everything.

Admirably, the army’s engineering corps quickly constructed a ramp to replace a destroyed bridge in barely a day to facilitate search and rescue operations.

The police ensured smooth traffic and saw to it that everyone had shelter. This gave the victims a sense of security – that someone was in charge and looking out for them.

As Bukit Antarabangsa is in my neighbourhood, I saw first-hand how organised the Malaysian military and police force can be. They are more than capable of organising this kind of relief effort.

The villagers in Kampung Manek Urai will need a lot of help to rebuild their lives following the floods in Kelantan. – Pic courtersy of The Edge Financial Daily, January 5, 2015.The villagers in Kampung Manek Urai will need a lot of help to rebuild their lives following the floods in Kelantan. – Pic courtersy of The Edge Financial Daily, January 5, 2015.My questions are: Why are Kuala Krai and Manek Urai in total chaos? Why are they not managing traffic in Manek Urai where “tourists” clog up the narrowed and destroyed roads, snapping photos, taking selfies and impeding relief efforts?

Worse yet, these visitors might put themselves in danger as they arrive not in four-wheel drives but in small sedans or motorcycles that can easily get stuck in the slurry and mud left in the wake of what the locals have dubbed the “Adik Tsunami” (smaller tsunami).

Where is the Engineering Corps to build ramps and replace destroyed or damaged bridges and roads so that remote areas can have some access to food, shelter, medicine and basic necessities? Why are they not deploying their teams en mass to repair the water utilities so that folks here can have clean water?

Where are the police? Since arriving in Kuala Krai on December 31, I hardly saw a police officer on duty throughout the entire town and its outskirts. Why must business owners have to sleep outside their shops to ward off looters?

Granted that the Kuala Krai police may have been incapacitated as the floods inundated the headquarters and adjoining barracks, destroying many assets including patrol cars.

However, if an emergency was declared, the army would be patrolling the streets to maintain law and order.

Also: why is it that my editor and I are able to send relief supplies to remote areas with only a four-by-four pick-up truck, courtesy of a corporate sponsor, whereas many victims did not get help from the authorities although the security forces are much better equipped to do a better job?

We went to Kelantan in an individual capacity to render what small aid we can as this is Terence’s home state and his parents’ home was inundated as well. Yet unlike the well-equipped authorities, two journalists with a few friends managed to find some of the remote areas which have not received any aid since the disaster struck.

What happened to the Army’s Logistics Corps who should know which remote outlying areas would need aid to be sent?

Last I read before heading to Kuala Krai was that Jeli MP and Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed had admitted the government’s weaknesses in handling the worst flood in decades.

If this is so, why has the Prime Minister not declared an emergency in areas like Kuala Krai? After all, he cut short an important meeting with the US President to return home in our time of need.

The massive floods in Kelantan destroyed many houses in Kampung Dusun Bunut. – Pic courtesy of The Edge Financial Daily, January 5, 2015.The massive floods in Kelantan destroyed many houses in Kampung Dusun Bunut. – Pic courtesy of The Edge Financial Daily, January 5, 2015.He even recalled members of his Cabinet who were overseas to come home and do their duty.

Even so, during a national disaster, should these ministers not cut short their travel and return home without being told to?

The government has to act impartially to avoid being accused of focusing assistance on its vote banks.

Have our politicians forgotten their oath of office to serve all regardless of affiliation?

It is bad enough that the government is accused of being partial in distributing national development. Here, there is talk that relief is also apportioned along party lines, as some flood victims have alleged.

After normalcy returns, it would be important to find out if there is any truth in such talk.

For the PAS-held state for the last 25 years, it is possible that the flood havoc may make the people of Kelantan think about a change.

But, at the end of the day, the disappointing lack of support for the victims of the East Coast floods could turn the disaster into a watershed moment for either the state or the federal government. – The Edge Financial Daily, January 5, 2015.

  1. #1 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 5 January 2015 - 12:43 pm

    We know that the monsoon will hit the nation almost every year and the States in the north seem to receive the brunt of it and yet no action has been done to mitigate the issue. We may not be able to stop it but at least should be able to lessen the overall impact. Of course the scenario is made worse be the role of the national leadership which seems to imply that since this is the work of nature: what else can we do???? Surely the rivers and drains can be deepen and widen to alleviate such situation. It obvious that Money can be spent freely on lesser important matter but not on this annual affair. Or is it easier to blame it on mother nature? We are indeed lost in the 21st Century while others are progressing forward a better future with courage while we spend time arguing on skin colour and personal belief!!!!

  2. #2 by john on Monday, 5 January 2015 - 3:45 pm

    Just go back and check on records, who said what, what had been readied, and that, we are ALL PREPARED, READY to face the floods, comes end of each year. And this ONE ! .
    Is on everyone’s mind, these people as claimed ( claimed only, in name ) to take charge, now suddenly disappear and so quiet ?.
    What happen to all the (boastful) talks ! of a caring what ?
    This ‘government’ it seems is only good at BRIM1, BRIM2, BRIM3; now BRIM what ?.
    When a case of ‘ Altantuya ‘ seriousness and gruesomeness can be quell down, what is this latest “tsunami” in comparison.
    Just same BUMNO tactic, now and before, when faced with whatever small or big issues.

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