What if we honestly walk the talk?

THE first day of school came and went. And wet too – some places, more than others. In all, it was fabulous to see young untapped minds marching confidently to school all set to learn. Now that they have taken the critical initial steps to be inspired, pray it works well for the sake of the country.

Unfortunately, there were still pupils who were forced to stay at home by floods. Many are in the less developed states in the east coast of the peninsula, and in Sabah and Sarawak. Since the new year many have been taking shelter at relief centres which are most often schools – presenting another barrier to learning.

Reportedly the relevant authorities are working "to assess the flood situation". At face value this sounds encouraging but it is not enough to just assess. "What if" this was done earlier? Could we have done better?

In 2015, my first column in theSun was about floods. The situation then was already considered "unusual" compared to earlier experiences providing new lessons and experiences learnt that could serve as warnings of more challenging times to come. The current situation seems to be just that. Did we put to good use those "new" lessons?

Although many of the "victims" were helplessly caught in the deluge, many are now lamenting that the frequency and severity put them in a quandary like never before. They are unable to cope any longer. This requires a different way of assessing the situation.

Otherwise, the main losers will be the schoolchildren. Not only do they have to put up with such avoidable inconveniences at a tender age (with some lives lost or having to face unwarranted life-threatening risks), they have to skip classes on the first day of school. Bearing in mind that these are mainly in rural areas where the "performance" of schools and pupils are always of greater concern this makes the situation untenable.

Being absent is definitely not acceptable, to begin with. What is more, this has been going on for many years that it is now taken for granted.

It is not as though they make up at home what they have missed at school. In contrast, they can be an extra "burden" to keep an eye on as adults are preoccupied dealing with the many discomforts and distractions. No less with the VIPs making their rounds and photo ops giving the same assurances. Nothing much has changed despite the predictability of weather patterns as technology becomes more promising and sophisticated.

"What if" we learn from the "school in hospital" initiatives which proved successful catering to sick children. What is the probability of using "school in relief centres" or something similar to keep the affected children engaged in productive ways. It is more doable being a short-term effort needing fewer resources if diligently planned. Since the floods are seasonal and getting more regular; we could have perfected it by now – if only someone had the courage to mount it some years ago. It is still not too late as there is no concrete plan to "end" the overdue flooding problems once and for all judging from the half-measures taken.

What boggles the mind is: why so? Is this not part of the journey to Wawasan 2020. What about the more recent clichés of "no one left behind". Yet the status quo remains, if it has not worsened, thanks to global warming, other than the apparent continued neglect from those responsible. Proof of this is a location near Kuala Lipis. A social media clip shows a father and his young son precariously crossing a pathetic looking "structure" over a river to go to school daily. So much for "assessing" whatever as reported earlier.

News reports quoted victims complaining that it was the third or fourth time in the month (December) that they have been hit; and that the flood water got into their houses for the first time. Not to mention that their children had to stay away from school for the umpteenth time.

Sounds like we are not ready to leverage on the accuracy of available data to think ahead so as not to compromise learning. Is this a technology or a capacity issue? Again it does not appear so going by the number of high-profile projects backed by "friendly" countries. There seems to be more than ample capacity and funding available to make a difference. Take the high-speed rail project to the flood-prone east coast for example. Or the highway spanning Sabah and Sarawak as highlighted by this column previously.

So the third "what if": how about allocating some of the available funds for an equally urgent massive rapid flood mitigation work in the relevant well-deserved areas. In other words, first things first. Logically once the long-standing flood-related problem is systematically solved, then other infrastructure projects can quickly follow suit. It would be more conducive with the seasonal flooding under better control if not eliminated.

As it stands those who suffered from an overdue avoidable flooding menace will unfairly continue to. Without any serious, long-term effective flood "eradication" plans, the future could be worse off. Unless it is assumed that the ecological damages (if any) are minimal (which is most unlikely). Based on the publicly available plan, some of the affected areas are said to be already compromised ecologically speaking. That said, the flood problem is here to stay beyond 2020. A clear disregard of the "no one left behind" policy which points to one hard fact: the priority for "rakyat didahulukan" is somehow skewed away from the more deserving rural folks.

Giving more aid will only confirm the half-measures as mentioned knowing full well that the situation is going to get worse. "What if" we (re)think and go for something more permanent (think Holland being below sea level but not flooding in recent years). In short, let us (re)prioritise to first "end" the floods, viz, "what if" we honestly walk the talk so that no one is really left behind.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com