Do not blame nature for our own greed

Destruction of rain catchment areas, unplanned development activities and uncontrolled pollution are among main factors of flood 

Pic by BERNAMA

DO NOT blame nature for our own greed. Day after day, we are shocked by a wide variety of natural threats including the extremely hot weather that we experienced early last year until around September due to the unusual heat wave phenomenon — that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded the highest sea level temperature ever reported last July in 142 years. 

Unprecedentedly, the country has been hit by a flood that has submerged most parts of the country over the past two weeks. The flooding was reportedly among the worst in the history of disasters in Malaysia since 1971. 

To this day (Jan 4, 2021), nearly 50 people died and over 200,000 flood victims nationwide were transferred to temporary settlement centres. 

It is heart-breaking to see the victims’ condition and hear their predicaments when I had the chance to volunteer to assist in the distribution of essential goods to flood victims and cleaning activities for the past two weeks. 

Houses filled with silt and thick mud, appliances and furniture were badly damaged, while the number of victims affected is also increasing day by day. Victims and volunteers have not even lost their tiredness of doing post-flood work, the second wave of flooding happened in some places resulting in the rise of water again following persistent heavy rains. 

What is the end of this catastrophic episode, where is our fault exactly, and will we continue to be on thin ice to face the same event every year? These are a few of many questions lingering in the minds of every Malaysian at the moment. 

As a matter of fact, the flooding in our country is not something new and it is no longer surprising that it has become a norm especially on the East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, while flash floods on the west coast side. Most of the coastal communities also own at least one boat per family and are ready to look forward to the monsoon autumn which causes higherthan-usual rainfall. However, will this situation continue, left destitute and awaited until a more severe tragedy strikes? 

In my opinion, the frequency of natural disasters in our country in recent times is not due to natural factors but stems from our own gluttony to exploit the earth and damage the environment with activities that may be profitable for a short time but cause losses in terms of loss of life and property damage as well as resulting in permanent destruction of nature. 

Among them are the destruction of rain catchment areas, unplanned development activities and uncontrolled pollution. Logging activity increasingly and worryingly causes forest cover to shrink especially in rain catchment areas. The impact of unsustainable development can also result in various natural disasters especially in wetlands such as swamps and lakes. 

Logging activity increasingly and worryingly causes forest cover to shrink especially in rain catchment areas

Unplanned urbanisation activities are also among the main factors of flooding and are often associated with the destruction of water catchment areas. Forests have a very important function to prevent flooding. 

The physical structure of the trees themselves including stems and roots can act as a natural deterrent to prevent rainfall from falling directly to the ground resulting in a significant reduction in the speed of rainwater flowing into the river thus reducing the risk of overflowing the river during heavy rains. 

At the same time, the roots are also able to increase the grip of the soil which can cause the movement of soil into the river to be slowed down which can reduce the risk of river erosion and landslides thus reducing the water content in the soil by increasing the absorption rate of rainwater into the roots of trees. 

Meanwhile, pollution such as piles of garbage, wood and stones in the water drainage system can cause the flow of water to be disrupted and cannot drain the rainwater out quickly in the event of sudden heavy rains. Similarly, the inability of drainage systems to accommodate large water capacity and torrential water drainage movements that may be prevented by sedimentation of the soil as a result of erosion or garbage collection or insufficient size of the drains themselves as a result of less efficient urban planning causes the risk of overflowing water out during heavy rains. 

In addition, the increasingly vibrant human activity especially in urban areas affects the natural climate regulation system and causes various adverse effects to us and the environment. Therefore, it is undeniable that climate change and global warming are among the main contributors to catastrophic events in particular floods that are increasingly frequent in our country due to extreme and unpredictable weather. 

Overall, the risk management system in our country must be reviewed promptly to ensure that flood events such as the one that hit our country this year and before do not happen again. It is also important for the government to begin to acknowledge that the frequency of natural disasters is the result of uncontrolled human activities. 

This requires interagency cooperation so that the causes of disasters can be identified and scrutinised as well as more strategic and structured measures can be carried out more effectively. 

There is also the need for public awareness programmes to raise awareness among Malaysians in the face of disasters such as being prepared and attentive to current issues and warnings issued by the government. Next, they also need to have awareness of environmental care and understand the consequences of their daily actions that can affect the quality of the environment as well as lead to an increase in the frequency of natural disasters such as floods. 

Ultimately, selfishness and greed for material wealth without thinking about the balance of ecosystems and natural sustainability are detrimental and create disasters that have adverse effects on humans and other life on the face of the earth. 

On this occasion, I would like to extend my sympathies to all flood victims and hopefully continue to endure this challenging period. My tribute also goes to the volunteers who are tirelessly helping the flood victims in all parts of the country. 

I personally had the opportunity to join forces with some of the volunteers who came hundreds of kilometres away just to assist in rescue operations and volunteer in post-flood activities. I am deeply touched to see this spirit of cooperation and I hope that the essence of the Malaysian Family can also be observed in order to help protect and care for the environment as planet earth is the only home we have. 

  • Mogesh Sababathy, environmental activist and co-founder of Project Ocean Hope. 

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.