When forest can no longer prevent floods…


KUALA LUMPUR – Till when will the weather be blamed for the occurrence of natural disasters, such as flood, like what is happening in some states now.

Although flood happens almost every year, what happened the past few years was different. The fast rising muddy yellow water shows that human factor also contributes to the increase in the intensity and impact of the flood risk.

In fact, on social media, even netizens conclude that the floods, especially in Pahang, is the result of humans themselves destroying nature for the sake of development and profit. This is because of the uncontrolled forest clearing and logging activities, especially in Pahang and Kelantan.

It cannot be denied the role of the forests in preventing natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, pollution, storms and other physical disturbances. Uncontrolled forest clearing in the country has had a significant impact not only on humans, but also on the environment.

For a senior lecturer at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Associate Prof Dr Haliza Abdul Rahman, logging activities and changes in forest land use could increase the occurrence of natural disasters.

She said the forest play a very effective role in controlling flood problems by covering the soil surface from erosion due to rain and  holding back and delaying the passage of rainwater to streams and rivers.

“Forests are a natural ‘sponge’ in absorbing rainwater. This is because the structure of the forests, with tree roots of various sizes acts as a natural concrete network to hold the soil structure.

“When this role is eliminated, it is not surprising that when there is heavy rain,  flood easily happens,” she told Bernama.

According to Haliza, with uncontrolled development process, including large-scale deforestation, it will cause the rainwater to flow faster.

This is because among the functions of the forest is to hold or delay the flow of rainwater to the river., but when there is development involving deforestation, it will disrupt the natural process of the water flow and cause locations downstream to get large amount of water, thus causing floods, she said.

“The widespread deforestation in the highlands, which is happening now,  not only destroys nature but also the ‘cloud forest’ which can result in loss of water resources,” she added.

The issue of forest clearing to make way for development is not new, as in the case of Pahang when the Earth Observation Centre found that more than 20 percent of the forest area in the state had been cleared for development since 1989.

Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail was reported to have said that 2,531 hectares of permanent forest reserves in Pahang had been illegally cleared.

As of June 2019, there are 2.5 million hectares of forest in Pahang with 1.56 million hectares gazetted as permanent forest reserves.

Meanwhile, environmental group Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka) president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil called on the relevant quarters to stop blaming the natural phenomena, including heavy rain, for causing the floods in the country, which had resulted in damage to property and loss of lives.

“It is not due to rain or weather factors. As we know, at the end of the year, we have the northeast monsoon, which brings high rainfall sometimes.

“Big floods will not happen if we have enough forests to act as ‘sponge’ to control the flow of rain water. What is happening now is that the forests are being cleared, causing rainwater to flow along with the sludge and logging waste,” she said.

As such, she urged state governments to stop using their forests as “automatic teller machines” (ATMs)  or short cut for money.

She also suggested amendments to the law by placing land administration under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

“If we do not want more forests to be destroyed, we need to ensure that 50 percent of the area in the country is covered with forests,” she added.