On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Floods washing away nation’s image

Just before I left the hotel where I was attending a birthday party, my friends had showed me pictures on their mobile telephones of the scenes at various locations at Jalan Sultan Ismail where the floods had worsened. 

One showed the basement of a hotel where several cars were trapped and water rising at an alarming rate as we discussed how we could reach our homes through the best possible routes.  

In various parts of the city, many motorists just parked their cars by the kerb, refusing to be part of the traffic snarl, with some taking pictures of cars being submerged in water.  

I was fortunate, my driver, a former taxi man, drove me through lanes that I never knew existed and cut through government offices before heading towards Bukit Tunku to reach Petaling Jaya. Some of my friends, who attempted to leave the city at 10.30pm, only managed to reach home at around 1am. 

The question on the minds of city folks was why was Kuala Lumpur still hit with a flood following the completion of the RM1.9bil Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel Project (SMART) and a total of RM6.2bil reportedly spent on flood mitigation in the past years? 

The Prime Minister is rightly upset with what has happened by rebuking the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) for failing to deal with the rising waters that hit the heart of the city. 

After all the hype, the SMART management has claimed that tunnel was designed only for storm floods and not for flash floods. Its operations general manager Mohd Fuad Kamal Ariffin said it was not able to handle flash floods and areas outside of the Sungai Klang and Sungai Ampang confluence. 

That was not all – the DID, he said, would handle the operations of the SMART flood tunnel as flood management and control fall under its jurisdiction. In short, it’s not our job, please see them. 

But DID deputy director Ahmad Fuad was saying a different thing on Monday. He said had the SMART flood tunnel been ready, it would have prevented the floods, saying a storm caused the Sungai Kelang, near Dataran Merdeka and Masjid Jamek, to overflow. He said that was what the SMART flood tunnel is being built to overcome. 

He said had the tunnel being operational, “it would have used to divert 95% of the water in Sungai Klang to a lake in Sungai Besi and prevent the flood.” He added that the road portion of SMART was opened to traffic but the floodwater diversion component will only be operational next month. 

But his boss Datuk Paduka Keizul Abdullah was quoted as saying last week that the SMART tunnel will not put an end to flash floods, unless some 200 dams and flood retention ponds to complement it are built. 

He said currently only 100 of the 200 ponds had been constructed and completed, and that the ponds being built include the Sri Johor pond, expected to be ready only in January next year. In short, the SMART flood tunnel can handle the floods but only if it is fully completed with these components.  

For the folks in the Klang Valley, the question is can the flood tunnel, when fully completed, be able to resolve Kuala Lumpur’s flood woes, after having spent over RM1.9bil without taking into account the other millions used up for flood mitigation projects. Flash floods or storm floods are the same to us because it is just air banjir

Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Ab Hakim Borhan has promised some short and long term plans to resolve the flash flood problem by increasing the height of retaining walls along rivers and building more pump houses at low areas. 

The people in Klang Valley have heard all these assurances before; after each flood. Why do we get this nagging feeling that we would have to go through the same problems again when it rains the next time? 

It is embarassing, even a blow to the nation’s image, that right under the majestic Twin Towers, cars were floating or submerged in rivers after just a few hours of rain in the federal capital. Malaysians do not have to be engineering experts to know that the city’s drainage is bad.  

Millions of ringgit must have been wiped out on Sunday when properties were destroyed by floodwaters, resulting in a trail of debris on Monday which made Kuala Lumpur look like a city from a Third World country. 

Until yesterday, the pumps were still working overtime, including at the Dataran Merdeka basement car park, to get the water out. The extent of the cars trapped inside the basement remained unclear. 

What hurt most is the continuing presence of tourists at Dataran Merdeka since Sunday who had been clicking away with their cameras at the entrance of the flooded basement car park.  

Well, as we, Malaysians, would say, jatuh air muka sahaja (the loss of face) especially when some of us, including the politicians, seemed preoccupied with boasting of our biggest, tallest and longest achievements.  

It wasn’t a few drops of water leaking from the ceiling this time but a flood that hit at least 40 areas in the city. 

To put it bluntly, some of us are just not too smart.