Logging caused unusual flooding, say NGOs

malaysia dec floods
Extreme flooding hit Malaysia last December, recording the disaster as one of the worst flooding that affected the country. Kelantan was the worst affected, with over 100,000 victims relocated to relief centres. Image: Nazirul Roselan/ Reuters

The East Coast of Malaysia, last year, was struck by the worst flood in its history. It left in its wake a destruction and loss of property and afflicted victims with a host of psychological issues.

Kelantan was the worst affected, with over 100,000 victims relocated to relief centres. Many of them had lost their homes when it was swept away by strong currents.

It is not unusual for the East Coast states to be affected by the Northeast Monsoon, which occurs from November to March, every year.

The months of November, December and January typically records the highest amount of rainfall, causing floods in the lowlands.

However, last year’s flood occurred on an unprecedented scale, resulting in destruction akin to that brought by the tsunami. It left many wondering how such a disaster could have happened.

To true cause of the unusual flooding has yet to be determined to this day. The Deputy Prime Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has stated that the government would conduct a post-mortem on the issue once the situation improves.

However, several environmental NGOs have pointed out that the disaster that happened was due to the massive environmental destruction that took place in the state.

Perhaps they (the state government) may gain a RM20 million income from logging activities, but, it will cost them billions of ringgit in recovery costs when floods of this scale occur

Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, president, Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia 

Crucial to protect environment

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) is one of the NGOs formed to stop the destruction of natural resources.

Its president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said the NGO had time and again reminded the state government and the media the importance of protecting the state’s forests and natural resources, in order to prevent disasters like floods.

She said each state government was responsible for its own natural resources. It also needed to impress upon the importance of preserving its forests, instead of trading it for short-term gains and benefits.

“Perhaps they (the state government) may gain a RM20 million income from logging activities, but, it will cost them billions of ringgit in recovery costs when floods of this scale occur,” she told Bernama, when contacted.

She said if logging activities were to take place, those responsible should incorporate with it ways of ensuring the conservation of the ecosystem in the affected area.

Giving the example of good logging practices, she said in Canada, every tree felled needed to be replaced with the planting of eight to 10 new trees to preserve the ecosystem.

“We should not wait until disaster strikes to implement such measures,” she said.

Meanwhile, the president of Sahabat Alam Sekitar Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia),Datuk Abdul Malek Yusof, said widespread and indiscriminate logging created a ripple effect in the long run.

“Logging would usually result in erosion, causing mud to flow down from the highlands during rain, eroding hills and destroying water catchments and causing lowlands to become flooded,” he said.

May not be a one-time disaster

A huge cause for concern is the logging activities detected in Tasik Chini, Pahang and several areas in Kedah, which could lead to floods of a similar scale.

“Last week I visited Tasik Chini in Pahang and saw for myself the illegal logging taking place which has now resulted in muddy water in the lake,” said Abdul Malek.

He said the surrounding area was at in high risk for flooding if the lake became shallower due to mud flowing in from logging activities.

In fact, he said, the hills in the area have become bald as no trees were replanted after logging activities took place.

Abdul Malek said there were also massive logging taking place in areas like Padang Terap in Kedah and along the slopes at the Titiwangsa range.

He said the issue of indiscriminate logging should not be politicised or regarded as something normal because it was a real problem with dire consequences.

“I am urging for political inclinations to be set aside and for the federal and state governments to work together to solve the issue of logging.

“If it is possible, a commission should be set up to overlook logging activities,” he suggested.

He however said it was not the only underlying cause for the flood, as poor irrigation and garbage disposal systems could also lead to the disaster.

Role of the public

Meanwhile, the president of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia, Nithi Nesadurai said public awareness on environmental issues were still very low, leading to a number of environmental abuse.

He said Malaysians needed to understand the importance of natural forests and the effects of logging and illegal land clearing.

“When trees are felled, it causes rain to flow down the soil instead of being absorbed into the earth by trees (and later slowly released into water catchments). This causes rainwater to flow down at a faster rate into the rivers. Rivers will not be able to contain such an amount of water in a short time, and this causes floods.

“Almost everyone is aware of the phenomenon, but no one gives it due attention,” he said.

Nithi said there was also a need for the state government to review the destruction of forests for the purpose of urbanisation as the usage of concrete in the soil could also lead to floods.

Meanwhile, Shariffa Sabrina wanted the public to become bolder in protecting nature and the environment by resorting to public protests if there were logging activities in their areas.

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