Learn From Past Mistakes With Floods


From Moaz Nair
A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself, said Franklin D Roosevelt. At times floods are just unavoidable because of climatic conditions but in most cases they arise from man-made causes.
Forests are cleared without quick reforestation, waterways are filled with refuse, mud and sediment causing them to swell fast with heavy rain, and the poor drainage system in urban and residential areas hampers the flow of water into natural waterways and their tributaries.
All these have caused serious floods in the country.
Of late, man-made floods have caused huge property losses and serious impact on the natural environment. Almost every year, in the past few decades, the country has suffered losses of millions of ringgit caused by human negligence.
I hope the government is aware that uncontrolled exploitation of the natural environment in many parts of the country is the main cause of severe floods today. This is a man-made disaster caused by poor environmental planning.
When development projects are implemented without planning, whatever infrastructure that has been built for years can be destroyed in the blink of an eye when floods occur. The government has to be taken to task, especially the ministry dealing with the environment.
Hills are cleared
Lately, the clearing of hillsides for various types of projects has been quite widespread and serious. Hills, mountains and forests act as natural filters for rainwater and allow water to gradually seep into the soil to form water catchments that will flow into the river gradually.
When hills and hillsides are cleared of vegetation, there will be a rapid flow of water on the surface slopes and it enters the river rapidly resulting in the river water level rising at a faster rate.
What more when the river is filled with dregs from the uplands; this will cause the water level to further rise and overflow the banks. It has been observed that there have been extensive and uncontrolled logging and mining activities in the highlands and forest areas, and this is aggravating the situation.
When upland areas are cleared and the reforestation process is slow or totally ignored, soil erosion sets in. In most cleared areas, the soil is left exposed to rain and this has caused massive soil erosion.
Exposed hill slopes will erode and the soil will be washed away to low-lying areas further causing heavy sedimentation when washed into the river and this prevents the river from flowing quickly into the sea causing the water level to rise.
Without a natural soil filter on the earth’s surface (such as forested hills, thick bushes, etc), heavy rainfall will cause the surface run-off rate to be higher and the river will be filled with water faster. This is exacerbated when the riverbed is filled with silt, mud and other debris as a result of erosion occurring on the hillside.
It’s human laxity that is causing the natural waterways to be dumped with all sorts of refuse. Flood wastes such as trees and accumulated sediments from hill slopes worsen the situation causing river water to be trapped disrupting its flow into the seas. This causes water to overflow the river banks and inundates the surrounding areas.
Flash floods
It seems we fail to learn from past mistakes. The material world and human greed is causing cities to now become concrete forests replacing its natural vegetation. The authorities should be aware that the often clogged, narrow and limited drainage system in urban areas have been causing flash floods each time it rains heavily.
In urban and residential areas, it’s normal to see the drains filled with various types of waste causing flash floods. Clogged drains and the poor drainage system will hinder the quick flow of floodwater into the natural waterways causing it to overflow into roads and surrounding areas enough to cause damage to properties. The lack of enforcement by the authorities on offenders who dump the drains with all sorts of trash have made the situation worse.
It’s also too common to see waste stuck in drains and creeks causing the flow of water from the floodplain to the river to be disrupted.
Do the authorities have efficient development planners and engineers to deal with this recurring flood problem? Or could it be that they are taking the easy way out in dealing with this issue?
In fact, the severe floods that have hit most areas today are mainly the result of human failure to preserve the natural environment. It is this human factor that causes the country to lose millions of ringgit every year in property damage.
The slackness of real estate developers too has to be blamed.
Lowland areas and swamps that serve as natural excess water storage are no longer functioning as they are used as waste dumps in development projects.
There has to be strict enforcement on those who flout the laws and also by increasing awareness and concern through education can encourage people to reduce their nonchalant attitude when it comes to the importance of preserving the environment.
The perennial flood problems we face can only be lessened if there is awareness of the need of a well-ordered development plan for the environment to be well preserved. To maintain a proper drainage system and the dredging of the waterways now is going to cost a lot because of the poor planning in the past.
Nevertheless, the government has to take note of the fact that the country needs a better flood mitigation plan to lessen the loss of lives and properties.
Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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