PETALING JAYA: Amid a high level of readiness and preparedness in anticipation of the high tide and possible flooding, disaster management experts call on the government to increase the scale of surveillance and monitoring schemes in the vulnerable coastal zone in the next few days.

Disaster management expert Dr Khamarrul Azahari Razak said the high tide phenomenon, intensive or prolonged rainfall and extreme weather events were among major causes of large-scale disasters in the coastal zones.

“Even more so in a densely populated place with poor drainage system and low capacity of community resilience.

“Some man-made dykes are fragile for such double phenomena, and coastal zone with high-risk coastal erosion rates should be consistently monitored and quantitatively assessed,” he said.

In anticipation of what may be coming, he said action should be taken to enhance local risk communication and locally led early action.

“The local leaders should enhance the level of alert – disseminating relevant risk information to grassroots using various digital platforms, such as WhatsApp group, or even via traditional ways by speakers at the mosque.

“The evacuation route must be clearly defined and temporary evacuation centres should be ready to accept the evacuees by following the pandemic SOP.

“Moreover, the supplementary support teams mainly driven by civil society organisations should be reactivated and linked with the community or village groups for urgent and rapid assistance,” he said.

Tourists or those who are travelling must also be aware of possible risks including inundated roads, damaged infrastructure or big trees falling, he said, adding that many vulnerable groups such as the disabled and sick should be given priority during emergency response, and their information must be made visible to the responders, or disaster managers.

Dr Khamarrul noted that a comprehensive long-term solution to reduce future disasters and climatic risk is critically needed.

“The government needs to realise that investing in pre-disaster stage or preventive measures is much cheaper than disaster response,” he added.

Association of Water and Energy Research (Awer) president S. Piarapakaran said that with heavy rain expected for the next few days, limited sunlight will cause the soil to be saturated and increase flood risk.

In the immediate action, he said the government should utilise previous data from flood simulation reports and real-time data from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and other agencies to identify high-risk areas in addition to the current affected areas.

“All state governments, local authorities and emergency services must be prepared.

“The potentially high-risk areas are closer to rivers, including lowlands, flatlands and flood-prone areas,” he said.

The downstream areas with dams and main pump stations, including the SMART tunnel, may be affected due to water discharge and pumping, he said.

“Proper precautions and warning mechanisms must be in place to prevent untoward incidents.

“Watergates and other mitigation facilities must be kept in optimum operating condition,” he said, adding that situations like in Taman Sri Muda in Shah Alam should not recur and hamper the recovery process.

Piarapakaran noted that the Works Ministry should use the MySejahtera app and other social media platforms to alert the public on dangerous slopes, which the ministry has a visual detection developed a few years ago.

“The government must also get the telecommunication companies to assist and use telco signals or mobile phones to identify trapped victims quickly.

“Similarly, the Multimedia and Communication Ministry should use the SMS alerts focusing on high-risk zones through telco companies. This will allow anyone in the zones to receive warning messages and contact details for help,” he said.

Considering the lack of knowledge in responding to such massive floods and the absence of an effective early warning system, environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong has called on the people to use their common sense when facing disasters.

“For example, if you see water beginning to rise in your area or house, be alert and shift all important documents and things to higher ground and have sufficient dry food prepared.

“Should the water continue to rise to the power point, turn off the main power switch at home to prevent electrocution.

“If you are stranded, always perform head count for everyone and preserve power supply, instead of busy shooting videos on phones.”

Theng noted that there was a gap between the warning about river level and rainwater and what the people should do to stay safe.

“It is time we learn more about our neighbourhood and place of living to know what’s at stake and where are the safe spots,” he added.

The Global Environment Centre (GEC) said the country must rethink its flood prevention, mitigation and preparedness while ensuring coordinated implementation.

Its director Faizal Parish said Malaysia must stop the clearing and conversion of catchment forests and peatlands that protect cities and villages from floods.

“Forests and wetlands are effective in absorbing rainfall and reducing flood peaks. Once forests are cleared, the runoff can increase by five to 10 times and eroded soil can clog rivers and drains.”

Other flood prevention measures include regular cleaning and desilting of rivers and drains, protecting river buffers or corridors where developments are not allowed, he said, adding that natural flood retention zones should also be enhanced along rivers and urban areas.

GEC’s river care programme manager Dr Kalithasan Kailasam cited the Irrigation and Drainage Department’s data which showed that 9% of Malaysia’s land were areas that are flood-prone.

The expert said climate change has altered the rainfall pattern in Malaysia and developments should be stopped at flood-prone areas and vulnerable communities should be steadily moved out of the areas.