Our management of the Covid crisis should have taught us invaluable lessons in crisis-preparedness.
But an incessant downpour over three days in December only revealed how poorly we fared when confronted with another crisis.
The rain pelted down. The floods started. Then we heard from the Meteorological Department which areas were under a red alert or orange and yellow.
But let us ask some honest, critical questions.
Did the rain suddenly come out of nowhere to catch everyone, including the authorities, by sudden surprise?
Did the relevant ministries and departments not read global and satellite images and connect with worldwide and regional weather bodies to establish the risk and potential damage heading our way?
Why do we always respond to every crisis in knee-jerk fashion? Did we not learn that the proper response in a crisis is not only about how well we rush to a danger scene but also about how prepared we are in averting or minimising damage.
How would factories that depend on their workers cope if their workers are stranded and if roads are made inaccessible by the floods?
How would farmers – like those in Cameron Highlands – cope with non-stop rain? Were they alerted well ahead before the cyclone-driven rains arrived so that they could salvage their crops or minimise the damage?
Did our fisherfolk receive adequate advance warnings and were any measures taken to ensure their hauls reached the markets?
How about the poultry breeders? Were they also not affected by the rain? Or should we leave it to the market to reflect the breakdown in poultry supply with a sudden hike in chicken prices and then just blame it all on the weather?
The politicians seemed more interested in the outcome of the Sarawak state election than in braving the affected spots nationwide to ensure that help got through where it was most needed.
Meanwhile, the prime minister was busy preaching about unity and the “Malaysian family” halfway through the weather crisis. He could have addressed the people on what they could expect and the measures put in place by his ministries, which only recently had received a 90% grade for their performance in his first 100 days.
Imagine the loss of spoilt produce, farm products and disrupted productivity. Think also of the people affected directly by the floods and the ensuing food chain supply disruption – all because the authorities flip-flopped in their crisis preparedness?
We must prioritise crisis preparedness, which should include the ability to minimise the fallout from any crisis. We need effective warning systems so that the people can swing into preparedness mode and minimise any disruption to people’s lives.
During those dark days, we witnessed how netizens connected with one another, sharing video clips and photos of people trapped amid the raging waters. Why were government notices issued only after local communities knew about the problem at hand?
Stop begging and start demanding
Over TikTok, Instagram, FaceBook, Telegram, WhatsApp and Twitter, we received unending video and audio clips of how ordinary people were enduring the havoc unleashed upon them not by nature but by the sheer failure of systems and accountability.
Thousands of ordinary people rushed in to help the unprepared – children, the elderly, the sick and families trapped by rising waters. Many expressed their frustrations and anger over the undeniable failure of the government and political leaders.
In just one flood-ravaged residential area, several lives were lost. Someone even had the audacity to say an autopsy would reveal the cause of death, implying we should not immediately blame it on the floods.
Even as the waters receded in several places, some of the government aid seemed more like publicity-seeking stunts than responses to an emergency. These stunts ranged from staged launches complete with razzmatazz to printed boxes of essentials that heralded the giver.
Netizens spread the images of a leader seated in the back seat of a four-wheel luxury vehicle, with window wound down as if to showcase him as a leader trying to understand the crisis first-hand.
A former senior cabinet minister even agreed with the people that the government was “clueless”.
Most agonising was the way the people had to plead and beg the government, “Tolonglah kami…” (help us) to speed up its rescue efforts.
Ordinary people have been begging for some time now. When Covid struck, some had to raise white flags so that emergency help and basic food supplies could be rushed to them.
Their cries of “tolonglah kami” were unfortunately met with announcements that they could now withdraw their retirement savings from the Employees Provident Fund to ease their financial burden.
At the height of the pandemic, even doctors had to beg by staging a ‘black’ protest to be considered for proper employment so that they could focus on the pandemic.
Today, many are still begging. We are begging all those in charge of the various ministries to measure up. We are begging for a commission of inquiry to find out who was ultimately responsible for all these failings and how they came about.
Many are begging for help to regain their normal lives, for electricity and water supply to be quickly restored. Others are begging for a special loan moratorium and special insurance considerations after having lost their vehicles and homes.
Why must the people of this resource-rich nation keep begging for help, it is the government and the political leaders who have failed us in yet another crisis?
Why must we keep begging when at every national budget, billions are allocated to improve our lives? What happened to all the tax money we paid to protect the country from unnecessary damage or loss of lives and property arising from negligence, ineptness and corrupt behaviour?
What happened to the decades of oil money? Was it not good enough to put in place crisis response and emergency systems with skilled personnel on par with other more developed nations?
We have to stop begging for our right to safety, wellbeing and security. It is the most basic duty of any government to ensure that crisis preparedness and the efficient functioning of systems remain at optimum levels.
Leaders have to take personal responsibility when the people endure untold suffering and loss of lives and property owing to the gross failure, clear negligence and dereliction of duty by those under their leadership.
The people have shown repeatedly that it is we, the ordinary people, who have to swing into action to help and save the lives of our fellow human beings.
In contrast, even well-intentioned civil servants are unable to do their best as they wait in desperation for their ‘perintah’ (orders).
All this must stop. We must say no to those who have let us down. We need to send a loud message to the powers that be that the people are now wiser.
We do not need to wait for a general election to hope for change. We need to demand right now that all those who failed should resign. “Kita tolong kita” should become the national mantra for saving the nation and its people.
The bottom line is that we the people should not have to beg for our fundamental rights.
Choose capable leaders
Covid exposed the rot amid us. But somehow, we remain stuck in a cesspool of inept leaders.
The devastation from the floods has confirmed that we desperately need change.
The problem is we are expecting different results when we have many politicians and leaders doing the same things in different ways. Some might call this insanity.
Yes, we must be insane to keep voting in the same lot of politicians who know little else. It is this sickness of the mind that has crippled the nation and blocked us from prospering as a nation united in all our diversity.
If today race and religion have become the mantra of political survival, it is because we seem helpless in the face of street-smart politicians who practise patronage politics.
In contrast, capable leaders show empathy and are passionate about bringing solutions to the table.
The recent flood havoc laid bare how many of the politicians and their leaders have failed the nation. It is time for the people to stand up and say the obvious instead of being politically correct.
If the nation is to protect its people and safeguard their wellbeing, it cannot bank on the same cohort of leaders who have been spinning the same old record of the three Rs (race, religion and royalty) for far too long.
If anyone wants to serve the people, he or she must have both intelligence and the right emotional strengths to lead. There is no more room for repeated mistakes.
A national bank announced it would be giving out RM10,000 in interest-free loans to flood victims. From a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective, the bank earns kudos for foregoing interest on the loans given out.
But this move also shows up the government’s failure in the wake of the devastating floods that left many families homeless. Why must those who lost their homes and belongings have to borrow money to get back on their feet?
People lost beds, furniture and electrical appliances. Their children lost their school books, bags, shoes and uniforms. Whatever little money the women folk would have saved would probably have vanished in the flood waters.
The people in Taman Sri Muda are mainly from the low and middle-income group who earn monthly salaries and small business incomes. Whatever they lost in the deluge would have taken them decades to acquire using their hard-earned savings.
To now burden them even more with debt is cruel – a classic case of exploiting their misery and misfortune?
Where did the country’s oil money go? Why does the government not have emergency funds to put to good use in a crisis that could have been minimised?
Remember, when Covid struck, people were told to use their retirement savings to ease the financial burden of lost jobs and livelihoods. Now we hear the same tune. Victims have to borrow money to tide over their losses.
If not for the spirt of ‘rakyat jaga rakyat’ (we’ve got each other’s back), the number of deaths and injuries would have been on an uglier scale as the government machinery failed to be proactive. What made the news instead were publicity-seeking efforts by those in authority.
The victims lost most of their possessions. Even to throw away the silt, mud and debris left behind by the flood waters, they had to pool their money to rent waste disposal services or seek the help of NGOs.
The government had no hesitation in using taxpayers’ money and revenue earned from this resource-rich land to build palatial dwellings. But when ordinary people are in peril, they are told to borrow some money to put us back on our feet. How cruel.
Back in 1971, then Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein was different. His commitment to the people brought so much healing and quickly negated the ravages of the floods then.
The floods this time around have revealed a government that has failed hopelessly. The ministers have lost the moral ground to even utter further statements and more promises.
Editor’s note: The government has since announced financial aid to affected households.
No national will
Many townships and villages are in a vulnerable state as the weather changes.
Take Pahang, for example. Floods have punished the state many times in past decades, destroying livelihoods, property, crops and livestock. Major floods occurred in 1923-24, 1926-27, 1971, 2013-14, 2020 and 2021.
Today, thanks to social media, we are able to see the trail of destruction left behind by the latest floods. The districts of Lanchang, Mentakab and Kuala Semantan were badly hit, as the Bera, Pahang and Kundang rivers brought with them mountains of timber and timber debris. Tens of thousands of people have been affected.
The many video and photo images provide clear evidence the nation is suffering from an unseen, unheard plunder over the decades – indiscriminate deforestation.
The 2021 floods have exposed the ugly secret of forest destruction for the love of quick and easy money. Who gave the green light to the timber barons to plunder our forests?
If no one gave the approvals, why haven’t our enforcement personnel spotted the destruction of our virgin forests, which have stood for centuries, protecting the entire country and giving us water and fresh air?
The mantra here is to take all you want, make the money, give me my cut and the deal is considered done. Who cares about what happens next after the choice timber is taken and exported for good money.
Those who made all the money from our virgin forests will not be giving back the money to save the people in times of a deluge, like what we have just witnessed.
There was a time when only water overflowed through the many districts. But today it is not just the floods that have caused untold misery and pain but the timber and timber debris that came in the raging waters that have been the prime destroyers of livelihoods, lives, property, crops and livestock.
Who finally will bear ultimate responsibility for the trail of destruction left behind? We need to find the culprits and ensure this land is protected and only developed with great responsibility.
Not nature’s fault
Malaysia is an amazing gift of nature, which has bestowed us with mostly fine weather. Abundant sunshine and rainfall allow most crops to grow well in our fertile land.
The climate should be safe, predictable and easily manageable – the envy of other nations that have to cope with typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
But after six decades of independence, the government has not demonstrated the ability to manage its annual wet weather seasons – even though our monsoons are often only a ‘dance in the rain’ compared to what some other tropical countries have to endure.
Amid this ‘modern Malaysia’ complete with towering brick, glass and mortars trappings, apartments and hostel blocks are plagued by soil movements and landslides, making them unsafe for families and students. These soil movements and landslides are often blamed on excessive rain.
But the harsh reality is we have taken the fine weather for granted, and so we suffer at the hands of inefficiency, neglect and, above all, greed.
A nation that can proudly build the tallest twin towers and the Tun Razak Exchange skyscraper cannot even secure humble four-storey hostels, simple hill slopes and apartment blocks.
A nation that can flatten pristine forests cannot even think of drainage to contain and direct the flow of rainwater.
We instead blame the rivers. We flash the ‘red flag’ at the rain. And sometimes we say it is because of rubbish clogging our rivers and drains.
We are often big on form but hopelessly poor in substance. The bloated civil service, probably the world’s largest line up of cabinet members, and the rapidly growing coterie of billionaires are symptoms of a nation driven by greed and corruption.
This is the truth behind why we must suffer from more and more floods and landslides with each passing year.
Take the Taman Sri Muda deluge. How could acres and acres of housing be built without basic standards of drainage put in place on a low-lying plain?
Elsewhere, how could huge piles of timber waste be washed downstream, leaving behind a trail of destruction?
Politicians who appear to do social service after the floods cannot resolve the deeply entrenched mindset that thinks nothing of plundering the land.
Greed has gone into overdrive. We destroy forests that are as fragile and important as glaciers are to the polar landscape. We bulldoze our hills to fill up the bank vaults of a few.
The nation has plenty of land, yet we are unable to live in harmony with nature while providing adequate affordable housing and prioritising adequate drainage. And we call ourselves a ‘progressive’ nation?
Ordinary people must be vocal if we are ever going to preserve this beautiful land. We must look beyond our daily bread-and-butter battles, even if this seems most challenging for many who are rapidly drifting into poverty.
Perhaps it is already too late, considering the level of plundering and mismanagement in this only place we can call home.