It leaves a bad taste in the mouth when the misery of the unfortunate is viewed without compassion and morality, and in the case of former tourism and culture minister Nazri Aziz, without logic.
He suggested that the frequent floods that have swept large parts of the country in recent years should serve as an attraction for so-called “voluntourists”, who can visit Malaysia not only for a vacation but also to learn about the deluges and participate in disaster relief efforts.
The Padang Rengas MP was apparently ‘inspired’ by the situation in Kuala Krai, Kelantan, where the monsoon is reported to be celebrated like a water festival.
However, monsoon floods are not quite like the flash floods that occur in the Klang Valley, which can in most cases be avoided if adequate flood mitigation steps are taken.
The MP’s problematic perspective of floods has serious implications.
The most glaring one is that floods cause immense losses of property, trigger trauma and misery, and claim lives. To turn the disasters into a public spectacle for entertainment is unkind.
To be sure, we are talking about floods that sweep away or destroy prized possessions acquired from years of toil and patience, lost livelihoods, and deaths to loved ones.
Flood victims would tell us that no air of festivity accompanied the rising waters while they crawled onto rooftops for safety, not for photo ops.
Some flood victims have been driven to poverty, struggling to put food on the table.
Secondly, this implies that politicians that harbour such sentiments have lost their moral bearing as well as are in denial of the harsh realities that common people have to endure, partly owing to the ruling politicians’ dereliction of duty.
It did not make things any better when certain politicians fled the country momentarily – instead of helping to find solutions – when the floods arrived.
Thirdly, turning the floods into a water festival not only rubs salt into the wound of victims but also distracts people from the underlying causes of the inundations and the dangers of climate change.
A so-called festival will not address important questions such as unfettered development, deforestation and the poor maintenance of drainage systems, all of which contribute to flooding.
Fourthly, the invitation to “voluntourists” to help the flood victims, which Nazri claimed is practised in some other countries, conjures up a negative image of the locals as being incapable of coming together to address their own problems.
The case of the Taman Sri Muda floods in Shah Alam last year showed that civil society could rise to the occasion to offer relief and assistance to flood victims.
Their efforts complemented the rescue operations of various government agencies that come under the purview of the National Disaster Management Agency.
If tourists are indeed to be encouraged to visit the country, they should do so especially when flood mitigation strategies and other measures, such as strict enforcement of forest and soil conservation, have been put in place so that the foreigners can learn a thing or two from our experience and expertise, which we could be proud of.
Only then would we have reason to celebrate – together with the tourists. – The Malaysian Insight