These past few days Penang have been inundated with the worst torrential rainfall the island has ever experienced. Along with the heavy downpour, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt.
First, the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) had failed to provide an early warning to the Penang state, which would have enabled the necessary preparations to be made. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi himself had highlighted the matter. As he rightly underscored, it would have helped both the federal and state agencies to coordinate their evacuation efforts and to get those affected to safety.
Talks for a better drainage system including flood mitigation system has also surfaced. Several Penang lawmakers have been quick to blame the federal government on the matter. According to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, over the past decade some RM2.57 billion was approved for flood mitigation projects in Penang but only RM1.04 billion of the funds allocated has been spent thus far.
For the record the government has already completed two phases of the Sungai Pinang river basin flood mitigation plans. The third phase has yet to commence. The delay was largely due to the need to relocate squatters residing by the riverbanks. It was cleared two years ago. As such, the government should have proceeded with the final phase.
If the federal government had put in place flood mitigation systems would it have prevented Penang from experiencing the flood today? Not necessarily so. Over the past five years Penang has seen major development projects throughout the island. Inadequately-monitored construction projects including land or hill-slope clearing have revealed to be the cause of landslides as well as flooding. Thus the state government should not be absolved of its responsibility.
Perhaps there is a need to build on the goodwill set forth by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad. The two men have shown that it is possible to set aside political differences in times of need. One must transcend political boundaries to overcome adversity especially when humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are needed. Moving forward both the state and federal governments should work in tandem towards preventing future floods irrespective of political opinions.