The National Security Council is deeply disturbed by the allegations made by certain individuals over the social media and web portals of late, particularly those that are published by the Malaysian Insider regarding the management of the current flood situation in the country. These articles and commentaries which smacks at political motive, claimed that the Government had failed in managing the flood situation even though year in and year out we are faced with this annual event. These individuals making their remarks from the bench are full of pomp calling on the Government to buck up and that we are lackadaisical in our response. However, their scathing comments only reveal how shallow their understanding of the concept of disaster and what it entails as well as the country’s system at managing it which covers the activities before, during, and after a disaster occurs.
Tony Pua in his article published on 26 December 2014 had said that Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak needed to “beat” the Cabinet and the NSC into shape until the flood disaster had been resolved. The fact is, nobody can resolve nor eliminate disasters. Disasters have and will always be a part of life so long as hazards and risks exist. What we can do is to mitigate and reduce the impact of disasters in order to save more lives. Even the most advanced countries with the most sophisticated disaster management system and law in place still faces hiccups and challenges when facing the brunt of the ravaging forces of mother nature.
Whenever something hampers the smooth response following a disaster, it is much easier to point fingers claiming that the Government had failed at their job. But bear in mind that we are dealing with a dynamic force and that no matter how prepared we are there will always be a bigger and more devastating disaster that would test the capability and resources of the country to manage it and that nothing can ever go as planned. Take example the Japanese Government that had invested billions of dollars in mitigation and preparedness works. Even they were overwhelmed when facing the tsunami which struck Tohoku region in 2011. This is because the preparations that had been put in place are for a 1 in 100 year event but what came that day was a 1 in 1000 year event. Similarly, this is what’s happening to our country right now with the flood particularly in Kelantan. This argument leads to the fact that in dealing with disasters and its complexity, we have to continuously adapt and improve based on lessons learned from past disasters.
The flood sweeping the East Coast Peninsular Malaysia right now is by no means a normal one. The disaster this time is very serious not only because of the exceptionally high water level, but also because areas that were spared from flooding in the past were also badly inundated. Areas such as Kuala Krai in Kelantan, Kuantan in Pahang, and Gong Badak in Terengganu received more than 1,000mm of rainfall for the period of 11-25 December 2014. Whereas in a normal month for the monsoon season, average rainfall is between 500mm to 600mm for the east coast. The extremely heavy and prolonged rain also coincided with the moon being at perigee which brings about higher than normal tides which effectively blocks the flood waters from draining to the sea.
Because of this, Government agencies encountered major obstacles and problems, slowing down the rescue and relief operations. Access to some areas and evacuation centres were effectively cut off and because of the strong currents and bad weather, rescue personnel could not reach the victims either by truck, boat, or helicopter. To add to the problem, water level had risen so fast taking people by surprise that they had to scramble to the nearest higher ground and became trapped. Some gazetted evacuation centres were also flooded. In areas like Kuala Krai and Gua Musang, effectively everyone in the District had become a victim due to the magnitude of the flooding there. As such, the Government had to conduct massive search and rescue operation over a huge area to reach these pocket of trapped victims and to provide relief. The breakdown of communication due to power failure also meant that these victims could not reach out for help. Although the 2010 flooding has the highest record of evacuees which stood at 231, 377 people, this year’s flood is the most challenging so far given the huge number of people becoming victims who are seeking shelter not only at evacuation centres, but also other buildings and high grounds.
Tony Pua can be held for libel by claiming in the article that the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is only now meeting the NSC on 27 December 2014 to deal with the flood situation; and that there was no prior meetings conducted to prepare for the flood. Several rounds of meeting were convened prior to the beginning of the monsoon season with the first meeting chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister himself on 3 January 2014. Following this meeting, the Minister at the Prime Minister’s Department, YB Dato’ Seri Dr. Shahidan bin Kassim chaired a second meeting on 13 October 2014 to further iron out crinkles in the coordination and preparation. A third meeting was later convened at the working level on the same day, chaired by the Secretary of the National Security Council.
Prior to these meetings, both the State and District Disaster Management Committees had convened their respective meetings. The NSC as part of its preparation had also assembled the various agencies for several rounds of workshop and discussions to review and improve the Standard Operating Procedure on Flood Disaster. We had also engaged with Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and academicians to get their views and feedbacks to ensure that the SOP is realistic and implementable. The Department of Welfare, in charge of managing evacuation centres and relief items have also enlisted volunteers and NGOs to assist them during the flood. In terms of assets, Khazanah Nasional Berhad through its CSR initiative had boosted the Government’s capacity by providing the NSC with among others boats, life jackets for children as well as generator sets which had already been deployed to flood stricken states.
In essence, everybody had met, planned, and are on standby. To accuse the Government of not being prepared is a gross understatement. It has always been the first priority of the Government to save lives and had we not been prepared, hundreds or maybe thousands of lives would be lost due to this serious flooding. And because of this also, we were able to conduct complex relief operations in areas that were completely cut off and severely inundated.
In SMK Manik Urai for example, the water level had risen sharply, reaching three storeys high. Water current was very swift when rescuers attempted to reach the stranded victims causing the boat to capsize and this was the largest boat with the highest horsepower being utilized. Rescuers then attempted to provide relief using a helicopter. However, three bids to approach the school building failed because of the severe weather which at one point strong winds even caused the helicopter to be tossed away. Finally, at 11.30pm that same night, the Fire and Rescue Department despite the grave risk braved the water and managed to reach the already distraught victims. Since it was already pitch dark, nothing much could be done by the rescuers except to stay with these victims and comfort them. Fortunately, the weather lit up a bit the next day and the Chief of the Armed Forces made a daring decision to again approach the school via helicopter to drop relief items. Our relentless effort finally bears fruit when relief was able to be provided thanks to the expertise of the armed forces team. Had there been no coordination and thorough preparation, such operation would not be able to be carried out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nia8YWV_Rxo )
As such, the commentary by the Malaysian Insider published on 26 December 2014 titled ‘More Flood Areas, More Evacuees, Just Less Common Sense’ in which it claimed that “the number of people, equipment, aid and transport being scrambled to assist flood relief efforts will tell you a simple story – Malaysia was again caught unprepared for a disaster…” is an attempt to blatantly mislead the readers as those were actually tactical moves made by the Government in responding to the immediate need of a given area based on the escalating flood situation.
( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXJGR_0HR2M )
Indeed, The Government’s machinery has been up and running in full force since the beginning of the flood season and are working day and night without stop. Officers from the NSC and other agencies are available around the clock to manage the flood situation and convene coordination meeting whenever necessary both at the headquarters and in the fields to resolve issues that arise during operations as is normal for a disaster situation. The Government has enough strength and capacity to face the flooding season and is in control of the situation despite the magnitude of the flood.
The commentary by the Malaysian Insider had also questioned why the Government was not able to predict the coming floods. It is important to understand that although the Malaysian Meteorological Department’s (MetMalaysia) early weather forecast system is equivalent to those of developed countries, due to our tropical climate it is very difficult to forecast and predict weather patterns. This fact is also acknowledged by meteorological experts around the world. Even though we are able to forecast an episode of rainfall 7 days in prior, we are only able to determine the general location of the rainfall, not the exact location. When MetMalaysia issued the red level warning, the Government immediately took steps to inform the public advising them to do early evacuation and as soon as the water level starts to rise, rescue agencies would conduct mass evacuation. Those who refuse to move risk being trapped as water levels can rise drastically in a matter of just a few hours.
A lot of the agitation from concerned parties regarding the current flood situation is due to the spread of misinformation, rumours, and lies by unscrupulous individuals which have caused a state of alarm. Tony Pua and the writer of the commentary by the Malaysian Insider should look for information from reliable sources instead of becoming an agent to spread slanderous allegations by relying on unverified sources. If they had spent a little bit more time going through the various official websites, Facebook pages and Twitter account, providing all the necessary information that one needs to know about the flood situation, they would be able to witness how the Government’s disaster management system is functioning well and is striving to provide relief to the flood stricken victims. The NSC’s Portal Bencana for example provides information on the number of evacuees according States and Districts, the number of family and people affected, the number list of evacuation centres that are currently open, number of casualties, road closures, weather forecast and warnings, as well as the contact details of State and District operation rooms. Apart from that, the portal also displays twitter widgets for all the latest information in real time on flood happenings, water level, and other activities relating to flood operations. The same information can also be accessed through the NSC’s (Informasi Bencana) Facebook page.
Despite the ongoing barrage of criticism levelled at the Government, we will continue to stay true to our promise to protect the people in every way we can. When the current monsoon season ends, apart from the recovery and rehabilitation efforts, the Government will go back to the drawing boards to ensure that existing mechanism and documents stays relevant. Such is the nature of disasters that no one event is the same and there will always be room for improvement in our Standard Operating Procedures and guidelines based on the lessons learned in facing obstacles and challenges during the said disasters. This was what the Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed had implied when he was quoted admitting to weaknesses in Putrajaya’s flood operations which was unfortunately not reported in full.
The NSC feels especially sorry that a public figure like Toy Pua would stoop to quoting information from an unreliable source to lambast the Government, particularly towards the NSC. This was the same media that had hastily reported without verifying with the authorities about 10 family members which was found dead due to being trapped in their flooded house. The Police later had issued a statement denying such incident. Tony Pua’s degree of credibility should be questioned for making wild allegations without cross checking his information and without equipping himself with the proper knowledge on how the country manages flood disaster.