Since Dec. 16, 2021, several states across Malaysia have been struck by two weeks of heavy rain, causing floods to take the lives of over 50 people and prompting thousands more to be evacuated.
The country’s plight in the face of torrential rains has prompted many responses from rescue workers and even the public to save as many lives as possible.
While it is normal for floods to occur on the eastern coast during the monsoon season (October to March), 2021 saw a very abnormal amount of rainfall that began on Dec. 16.
It is said that the amount of rainfall in one day of the floods was “equivalent to the total for a month in normal conditions.”
According to the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Sabah have been hit hard by the floods and are still facing the aftermath.
Selangor, one of the country’s most populated and wealthiest states, has also been struck badly by the floods, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters.
Even the capital of Kuala Lumpur was not spared from the rising water levels, as several landmarks were engulfed in the rapid surge of murky water.
“Although the high tide phenomenon this time is on a smaller scale compared to November last year, the situation can get worse if there are strong winds, tidal waves and heavy rain happening simultaneously which can cause flash floods, overflow of seawater and coastal flooding,” the Drainage and Irrigation Department stated on Dec. 16.
The potential troubles of additional flooding are expected to hit areas such as Kuala Muda in Kedah; Bagan Datoh in Perak; Klang, Kuala Langat, Sabak Bernam, and Kuala Selangor in Selangor; and Batu Pahat and Pontian in Johor.
As a result of the rising waters, a total of 125,490 people have been hit by the floods all over Malaysia, with over 117,700 evacuees having returned home. 8,727 people have been evacuated to 128 relief centers across the country.
Amidst the tragedy, 50 people have been killed in the floods, with two missing, as reported by the Inspector General, Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani.
“I’ve never experienced floods this bad. I want to go home but I’m not sure how we are going to get there,” Rohkidah Yusof, 60, said after she was blocked by the floods on her way home in Shah Alam, Selangor.
While some areas, particularly those located on higher ground, were safe from rising flood waters, the routes down below were not so fortunate. Thus, access to goods and equipment has been cut off.
“For the time being [supplies are] still okay, 10 trucks have arrived. Floods have receded in some areas and the victims already went home,” resident Mohammad Shahrul Azmir Selamat, whose home was located in the safe Hulu Langat neighborhood, told Reuters.
Datuk Wan Uzir Sulaiman, secretary-general of the Works Ministry, reported that roads, bridges and slopes have been damaged and are to be quickly repaired to restore “access and connectivity.”
He said, “Our worry is the second wave of floods. The recent floods have resulted in a lot of damage, and the second wave can bring about further damage.
“We have already identified ‘injured’ slopes and we have taken steps to prevent landslides.” he added.
The National Disaster Control Centre issued a disaster operation preparedness notice based on warnings by the nation’s Meteorological Department of continuous heavy rain, followed by another warning of high tides by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, which forecasted rising tides between Jan. 2-5.
Citizens currently on the west coast of the peninsula are advised to stay on alert for any rising water levels.
According to local news outlet The Malay Mail, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri announced on Dec. 31, 2021, that he is well aware of the turmoil happening in the nation and declared the need to help flood victims, promising to offer as much aid as the government could.
Overall, the government claimed that it aims to donate 1.4 billion Malaysian ringgit (US$334.93 million) in financial aid and other forms of relief for the victims of the floods.
“As we approach the end of 2021, Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family) was tested with an unprecedented flood, especially in Selangor, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and other states,” he said on Dec. 31. “This disaster did not just destroy property; it took lives. I am deeply saddened by the 48 deaths from the flood, and I convey my deepest condolences to their families.”
The government determined that the Bantuan Wang Ihsan (BWI) initiative, which aims to provide monetary aid to victims of the floods, is to be increased from RM500 (US$120.64) to RM1000 (US$236.69) to each household head. Ismail Sabri claimed that the initiative was already in effect on Dec. 27.
In addition to financial support, electrical supplies and free towing services have also been planned for flood victims. For serious cases of damage, several tens of thousands of Malaysian ringgit will be provided to renovate severely damaged houses or rebuild destroyed ones.
The government is also requesting $3 million from the United Nations (UN) Green Climate Fund (CGF) to further reinforce their plans to “adapt to climate change,” the Environment and Water Ministry said.
Answering the call
Despite the promise for financial and infrastructural aid, the government’s response to the crisis appears to be slow and insufficient, according to several accounts.
Twitter user Zarapedia posted online about how her brother, his pregnant wife and children were trapped in their home since Dec. 26.
“We have called for help. They said they will come. But they haven’t. The house has had a blackout since yesterday. I don’t know how they will survive and food supply is low,” she wrote.
However, the suppression of government support has not stopped people from jumping in to help as many victims as possible.
Recognizing the suffering happening in affected areas, emergency services, backed by civilian volunteers, rushed to save the day. More than 66,000 police, army and fire department personnel were deployed to rescue those in need. They began pulling people out of stranded vehicles and flooded homes, sending them to nearby safety zones and relief centers.
One of those who answered the call was rescue volunteer Adib Hariz Fadzilah, who bought kayaks and life jackets en masse for victims while also calling out for help via social media.
“I learned that some of the (emergency services) people were also buying supplies from here. It was shocking to me that they too didn’t have enough equipment,” he said.
In one instance, having grown tired of the NADMA’s frustratingly lingering response, the Armed Forces decided to jump right in and rescue civilians without waiting for orders from the agency. After their Friday prayers, they tackled the floods and went to assist those affected by the flood.
“It came to a point, where we (the defence ministry) decided, to hell with NADMA,” a source for news outlet Free Malaysia Today said, “Flood waters were already rising, we were not going to wait any longer.”
Due to the lack of warning and response from the government, Malaysians have taken to the Internet to voice their frustrations and anger.
“Many people died because of you and your people’s negligence. If y’all really took emergency action before and had warned the people, this wouldn’t have happened,” a Twitter user wrote.
There is also concern regarding the risk of spreading COVID-19, which could intensify due to the floods.
“The Health Ministry expects that due to this flood disaster, there may be an increase in cases,” Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin reported.