Local Counsel - Flash floods can be minimised

MALAYSIA is located in the equatorial zone and has a tropical hot-wet climate. Its citizens are familiar with torrential rains. In fact, there are people who carry umbrellas every time they go out of their houses.

In the past, as a general rule, floods during heavy rain were not a strange phenomenon. This was partly why traditional Malay houses were built on stilts.

However, nowadays, it is also fair to believe that most Malaysians worry about being caught in flash floods every time they leave their homes, although there should not be flash floods in built up areas.

There has been town planning and development control. No one can undertake development projects without getting professional consultants and getting approvals of local governments and state governments.

Unfortunately, several areas in Penang Island were flooded on Oct 29 when there was a downpour. In a short while, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Masjid Negeri and Paya Terubong were hit by flash floods. Houses were flooded. Motorists were caught in the floods.

Since the last 50 years or so, there have been drastic changes in development control and the building of settlement areas. There have been laws that demand that nothing can be built in the towns and cities without submission of plans by professionals and approvals also by professionals.

There are many university graduates with professional degrees, such as architecture, town planning and engineering. Many are working as professional consultants. Similarly, the local authorities, state governments and the federal government have also recruited many professionals as officers.

In addition, there are laws to regulate housing development. More specifically, housing developers have to engage town planners, architects and engineers to prepare their plans. The plans prepared by the professionals have to be approved by their professional counterparts working in the local governments or state governments.

If all developers have abided by the requirements of the City Council of Penang Island, all housing estates, new or old would have adequate drains to allow excess water to flow to the sea.

Consequently, there should have been no flash floods after two or three hours of heavy rain, like what happened in Penang Island on Oct 29 and on Nov 4, whereby Bayan Baru, Batu Maung and Permatang Damar Laut were flooded.

According to some Penang political leaders, ongoing flood mitigation projects, road widening with drains not completed and unusual weather conditions were reasons for the flash floods.Has Penang Island been developing too rapidly?

Over-development without sufficient rainwater dispersal can be a factor causing flash floods.
Making things worse, the drainage system has not been effective because too many Penangites throw waste products onto roads and into drains, so much so that the local authorities find it challenging to keep the drains free of garbage.

It is also common to see residents of houses along the banks of streams and rivers discarding solid waste such as mattresses, pillows and even bicycle frames into the rivers or along the banks. Eventually, the waste materials obstruct the flow of river water, thus causing flash floods.

No rubbish should be thrown into drains so as to ease the flow of rain water from drains to river tributaries, rivers and the sea.

Until a thorough study is made, it is not possible to pin-point which department or departments of the local authority have failed.

Generally, the development control departments have done their jobs well. Though the water pollution of most rivers in Penang Island, such as Sungei Penang and Sungei Air Itam, has been reduced, the main problem is still the inability to make Penangites obey the law about the indiscriminate disposal of waste. As a result, rubbish, especially plastic bags with waste products are still being discarded into the drains and river tributaries.

There is little need to engage more drain sweepers. What is seriously needed is to enforce the law. Have more campaigns to teach Penangites not to treat drains, rivers, and even the sea as dumping grounds for their waste. Hopefully, along the way, visitors will also learn that the Penang state and local authority officers are strict in the enforcement of the laws, as in Singapore.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com