On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Send out help fast

They have read about the situation and watched the images on television
but many still cannot apprehend the magnitude of the destruction. 

The reality is that the monster floods in Johor have become a national
disaster. The death toll following the first wave of floods in December
and January may be only 17 but many thousands of people have been

The rainfall has been the heaviest in 100 years. On Dec 18, 35cm of
rain was registered (compared with the average annual figure of 240cm),
causing over 30,000 people to evacuate their homes. 

When the water receded, they went home only to find most of their
possessions washed away. Clothes, beds, blankets and even simple
household items like plates, spoons and pails were all gone. 

For victims in the worst-hit areas like Kota Tinggi, Muar and Segamat, it is a case of rebuilding their lives from scratch. 

Unlike people in urban areas who work in offices and commercial areas
away from their homes, these people work in nearby shops, offices and
factories that were also hit by floods. Now, many of them face
short-term unemployment. 

It has been devastating for those who run small businesses. A Chinese sinseh found
his entire stock of herbs destroyed by floodwaters, and a mobile phone
trader's gadgets are now useless. Even crucial documents in police
stations are all water-soaked.  

These people have practically nothing left – no money and possessions. 

But before they could even pick themselves up, they were hit by a second wave of floods on Friday. 

Some 20,000 people had to be evacuated, including many in new areas like Johor Baru and Tebrau. 

The floods this time caught many unaware and certainly at the worst
possible time. Many Johorean politicians whose assistance was needed
were away because of the year-end holidays. 

Even the press initially took the December floods lightly, thinking
that it was another wet season, until the casualties started to roll

The slow response to the floods should serve as a lesson to us in handling emergency situations. 

Obviously we need to re-look at our drainage systems, especially in
towns located near rivers. For example, the Department of Irrigation
and Drainage is well aware that the Johor River at Kota Tinggi and
Segamat River in Segamat are prone to floods. 

If we can commit ourselves to spending money on projects that are
sometimes not useful, there is no reason why we should not take care of
basic flood mitigation infrastructure. After all, we are talking about
preventing the loss of lives and properties. 

Advanced flood warning systems such as flood alarms, variable message
systems and flood measurement systems must be installed in more areas,
especially in the East Coast, because the annual monsoon season always
causes flooding. 

Poor development planning and environmental degradation, too, have been
blamed and the authorities should not be too quick to dismiss these
factors because Johor is not located in the monsoon zone. 

Then there is the question of mop-up operations after the water has
receded. No doubt many council workers were also victims but the
clean-up process surely needs to be improved. 

We should seriously consider dispatching members of our armed forces to
help in such operations. They have the numbers, the training and the
facilities for such jobs.  

One major concern among the victims is the fear of an outbreak of dengue fever. 

But the biggest complaint from the victims has been the distribution of
financial aid. Many of them claim they have not received the RM200 that
was promised to each person. The Johor government has said RM5.2mil was
given out – but obviously not fast enough. 

This is not the time for bureaucratic delays. This is an emergency and the people need help fast.