Malaysian government under fire after being caught off-guard by deadly flooding

Malaysian government under fire after being caught off-guard by deadly flooding
Malaysian government under fire after being caught off-guard by deadly flooding

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has been heavily criticized for its response after severe flooding this month killed at least 48 people and displaced nearly 70,000.

Unusually heavy rainfall that started on Dec. 17 caused the most devastating floods across the Southeast Asian country in nearly a decade. The death toll from the disaster has exceeded that of the 2014 flood, which killed 21 people.

As criticism of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration has mounted over a lack of proper warning and preparedness, the government announced on Wednesday that it would provide nearly $335 million in relief for those affected by the disaster, including death benefits and cash aid.

But concerns over its future response are rising as the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) has warned more floods may hit the country in coming days.

In Selangor, one of the worst-hit areas — which is also Malaysia’s economic hub, contributing over 22 percent to the country’s GDP — local officials told Arab News there was no action from government agencies during the crisis.

“NADMA was supposed to come in to help save the people but there was a lack of reaction,” Muhammad Shakir Ameer, a city councilor in Selangor’s capital Shah Alam, said.

“It shows how disconnected the federal government is and there is a lack of empathy as people are dying.”

Charles Santiago, a lawmaker from Klang district, said NGOs were the first responders and official agencies came to rescue only two days later.

“The government was completely unprepared and the worst happened. It exposed the weakness in their system when only on Sunday the government machinery gathered together,” he said.

“People and NGOs had to move in before that to organize relief efforts. They had to gather boats and rescue people, house them and even cook for them.”

Flood evacuee Shahrin Rodi said he and his family had lost everything.

“The warnings came too late,” he said. “We managed to scramble out of the house without even saving our belongings.”

The sluggish response has triggered a backlash from the opposition.

“The government’s unpreparedness for dealing with the aftermath and not having a ready plan to mitigate the disaster was shambolic,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and 76 other members of parliament said in a statement.

The deadly flooding has also prompted calls for reform in Malaysia’s climate change policy.

“We have to start looking at climate change issues closely, we need to know how to manage heavy downfalls,” Santiago said. “The whole structure and ecosystem of climate change, we need to redesign and rethink drainage especially in areas like Klang.”

Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News the government should push more climate-sensitive policies and strengthen law enforcement where development projects are undertaken in flood-prone areas.

“There needs to be stronger enforcement and bigger policing when it comes to issues like retention ponds being converted into housing areas,” he said.

NADMA and the Prime Minister’s Office were unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts on Thursday to reach them.

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