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Malaysia assesses its worst flood calamity in 30 years

Updated On: Jan 23, 2007

As Malaysia’s floods recede, the government embarks on the painful journey of accounting for the country’s worst water calamity in 30 years.

As of January 21, a total of 51,197 evacuees remained at 115 relief centres in the state, with Batu Pahat registering the highest number at 50,960 victims followed by Kota Tinggi (180) and Muar (57). But whilst the situation has improved in hardest-hit Johor, another flood has engulfed Pahang, increasing the number of evacuees from 357 the day before to 672. Thus far, 17 lives had been lost to the incident.

Much work remains to be done to provide relief to the evacuees, and the task may prove to be daunting. Prime Minister Badawi has urged the authorities to speed up disbursement of monetary aid to over 100,000 flood victims. Each will receive an initial sum of RM200, and a subsequent RM500 upon their return home.

The immediate challenge also lies in economic accounting, as monetary loss is palpable through an expected slowdown in consumer spending, and a reduction of 10 to 15 per cent in household incomes (which averaged about RM 3,000 a month in 2004). Moreover, Johor’s previous 13 per cent contribution to the nation’s GDP will take a dive.

According to AP, Works Minister Samy Vellu said the authorities had allocated RM350 million to fix damaged infrastructure in Johor and other states affected by the floods, more than three times the government's previous estimate of RM100 million.

Alliance Research, the research arm of banking group Alliance, has recently estimated the total bill to Malaysia's economy to be about RM2.4 billion, equivalent to 0.5 per cent of Malaysia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government has refrained from posting actual economic figures however. Deputy Prime Minister Najib said that the full cost could only be confirmed after a federal meeting on the disaster.

Economic cost figures translate into the all-crucial recovery time. An official quoted by the New Straits Times said full recovery could take two years. The Alliancereport was less pessimistic however, forecasting a recovery by March next year.

There is indication as well, that the unseasonal weather conditions in Malaysia and the region as a whole is brought about by global warming. According to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s climate expert Dr Fredolin Tangang, the Indian Ocean was cooled by a natural phenomenon which oceanographers labelled the “Great Ocean Conveyor Belt.” But melting of Greenland’s ice caps from global warming has caused the natural conveyor belt to slow down or even stop, contributing to rising temperatures. In response, DPM Najib said the government would conduct studies on the economic and social impact of climatic change on the country.

On an ominous note, Prime Minister Badawi has ordered a full-scale inquiry into the cause of the floods, indicating in part that the damage cannot be fully attributable to nature’s wrath alone, but the responsibility should lie with the current state of drainage management and infrastructural development. According to the New Straits Times, PM Badawi said that 'the infrastructure such as drainage needs to be looked at. For example, there were places where the water levels went up quickly and took a long time to recede.'

Elsewhere, DPM Najib also said the government had formed a central committee to assess damage caused by the floods and determine actions to be taken to restore the situation. Studies will be carried out to understand why the flood waters rose so fast and  were slow to recede, especially in Johor. The government will also invest in a flood mitigation scheme.

Sources:

Floods to cost M'sia $878m (TODAY, 19 January 2007)

M'sia to hold inquiry into deadly floods (AFP/The Straits times, 20 January 2007)

Rising temperature in Indian Ocean may have caused Johor floods (The Star, 21 January 2007)

Floods In Pahang Turn For The Worse While Johor Recovers (Bernama, 22 January 2007)

Rain forces more from Batu Pahat to evacuate (Bernama, 22 January 2007)

Actual Losses In Floods Yet To Be Determined (Bernama, 22 January 2007)