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Malaysia’s flood disaster and new hydropower option

Updated On: Jan 16, 2007

Malaysia is severely wrecked by torrential rains from the north-east monsoon, and Johor, the southern-most state appeared to be the worst hit.

The unusually persistent downpour has brought about yet another wave of floods, killing 15 people and forcing around 109,831 people to be evacuated to 344 flood evacuation centres statewide as of 10 am yesterday.  And the spectre of prolonged flooding cannot be dismissed as more rain was forecasted.

The worst-hit districts are Kota Tinggi, Batu Pahat, Kluang and Johor Baru, and access to Kota Tinggi, Bandar Tenggara, Mersing and Kluang has been cut off.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on January 13 that the government was monitoring the second wave of flooding closely, and that a state of emergency would be declared in Johor if it was deemed necessary by the National Security Council. However, declaring a state of emergency would prevent the flood victims from returning to their homes, and result in the enforced closure of businesses.  And the Deputy Prime Minister, Najib on Monday (15 January) that the situation does not yet warrant the need to declare a state of emergency.

Amidst numerous complaints of housebreaking, Prime Minister Badawi also ordered the police to increase their personnel in Johor to prevent looting in badly-flooded areas of the state.

Thirty-six major roads in Johor - including part of the north-south expressway near Yong Peng - are currently closed, although train services from Singapore to the south of the country have returned to normal, after being disrupted on January 13 following landslides.

Utility companies have also been able to reconnect electricity supplies to many parts of the state, such as Segamat and some areas in Ulu Tiram, Sg Tiram, Simpang Renggam and Kluang. Water supplies were also restored to Sg Johor, Kota Tinggi and Yong Peng.

A total of 107 schools have been used as relief centres in Sabah and Johor to ensure that the needs of floods victims are looked after properly. The government has appealed to corporations and individuals to help the flood victims through an 'Adopt A Village' scheme that was launched on January 10. Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said families hit by the floods would be given RM500 each, but the number qualified for aid remains to be determined. An initial checklist of 74 villages has rendered 7,253 families most in need of immediate aid.

Malaysia has ruled out seeking foreign aid though the damage to infrastructure amounted to some RM100 million (about US$30 million).  There are other losses to farmers and livestock breeders, estimated at another RM37 million.  The prolonged crisis have also strained the resources available and there are reports of overcrowded relief centres running short of basic supplies like rice.

There are also other problems as the flood evacuatees face the daunting tasks of rebuilding their damaged homes amid stagnant waters, and the swelling of the mosquito population. Health workers have stepped up immunization and fumigation to prevent outbreak of diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. Warnings have also been issued about cholera. Thus far, two people have died earlier this month from leptospirosis, which is caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of rats.

Singapore NGOs such as the Singapore Red Cross and Mercy Relief have provided aid to the flood victims since the initial onslaught over the Christmas period. They are also on standby now and ready to help when the requests come in.  Malaysian newspapers such as The Star and The New Straits Times have also pitched in with fund-raising campaigns.

In the wake of the flooding disaster, the government made a curious announcement to re-call its earlier plans to develop nuclear energy, and to rely on hydropower instead. Energy, Water and Communications Minister Lim Keng Yaik told Bernama reporters on January 12 that Malaysia would have enough hydropower to generate electricity until 2030 – increasing its use from 5 to 30 per cent over the next 10 years to rely less on costly fossil fuels – and the government will take up the nuclear option “probably after 2030 when we would have exhausted our renewable energy”.

Dr Lim added that the Bakun hydro-electric project in Sarawak, one of the country's main hydropower generators, would produce between 4,000MW and 5,000MW of electricity alone to serve the needs of Peninsular Malaysia.

Yet just last November, the director-general of Malaysia's nuclear agency Dr Daud, had claimed that plans were underway to equip the agency's scientists with the latest nuclear expertise through cooperation with other countries. Such a dramatic policy back-track indicates a pragmatic reflection by the government upon other alternative energy options available in the country to avoid unnecessary risk.

Sources:

Worst may not be over for those hit by Johor floods (Straits Times Interactive, 15 January 2007)

'Adopt a village' scheme to help flood victims (The Star, 12 January 2007)

50,000 Malaysians displaced in second wave of flooding (The Straits Times, 13 January 2007)

Strong winds and low-pressure zone the cause (The Star, 13 January 2007)

Nuke energy takes backseat in M'sia (TODAY, 13 January 2007)

Flood situation worsens in Johor (The Star, 14 January 2007)

Hydroelectric power generation to be increased in the next decade (The Star, 15 January 2007)

Floods: Almost 110,000 evacuated (The Star, 15 January 2007)

Disease, looting fears rise in flood-hit M'sia (Reuters/Bernama, 15 January 2007)

Johor prepares for state of emergency (The Straits Times, 15 January 2007)