Saturday, October 8

“Hello, can you rain not more than 150mm?”


“HELLO, please do not release water from the dam because our place is now flooded.” An engineer, who is a friend of a friend, working at the Bakun Dam site constantly receives such distress calls when it rains heavily in Kapit, Kanowit, Sibu and other places at the lower reaches of the Rajang River and water from the drains rise.

“At most times, there was no rain in the Ulu, and there was no excessive water to be released into the river,” he said.

But this is one big problem that we are facing. Every each year, in cities and towns throughout the state, our people have a number of days ruined by flash floods. So far, the state capital residents have had the worst this year. In the shortest month of February, though with an extra day in this leap year, we have had three major floods in this southern part of the state.

It was especially annoying for many because the first of the month’s floods ruined the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner of many families. It was devastating for even more because they had barely cleaned their houses and replaced their damaged belongings when their houses were again flooded and they suffered more losses. This is one of the worst in years, with more than 8,000 residents in the southern region being evacuated from their homes to flood relief centres.

In addition, the state is also suffering its heaviest losses in damage to public infrastructure and property.

“There were at least 194 incidents of landslides and embankment failures in southern Sarawak this February,” the federal Works Minister revealed.

The “abnormally heavy rainfall” is to be blamed, according to this federal minister. Sure, what else. The minister is not legally trained, hence he is ignorant of the basic legal tenor that one does not accuse or lay blame on another who is not there or could not avail himself to defend the accusation made against him.

According to him, the state capital’s drainage system was designed for 150 to 180mm of rainfall, while the average has been 90mm. But he said: “in the latter incident, there was rainfall of 300mm, hence the Sarawak General Hospital, state police headquarters and the inner city fire station, all built on higher ground and which have never being flooded before, were flooded.”

The stunning pictures of a patient being carried up the staircases to the upper floor of the Sarawak General Hospital, and the floating swirling chairs in the state police headquarters were shared thousands of times on social media sites and those scenes will haunt Kuchingites incessantly every time there is a downpour, until the state capital’s drainage system is improved.

Barely two days after the federal minister said that the all-important offices to combat and cure disasters are built on higher ground and have never been flooded before, the fire station was reportedly flooded again, as my constituent shared with me the photographs he took.

No statistics of that night’s rainfall was revealed. My calculated guess is 50mm?

I was hoping that the same federal minister would give us an explanation, but there was none.

There are many causes for flash floods, we cannot just look up and point our finger to the sky and blame it on “abnormally heavy rainfall”. In fact, we Kuching city folk were much blessed that morning because it was all sunshine and not raining upriver.

Maybe this is the first time that the city capital and its vicinity was flooded three times in a month, but the flooding of Kuching and the whole state is an annual phenomena. We have flood mitigation plans and projects being approved for the whole state, many were announced a long time ago. It appears that these projects are not making progress.

My mother, although never having spent a day in government office, reminded me that any good government should take flood mitigation work seriously. The three successive emperors of ancient China: Yao, Shun and Yu were exemplary rulers. Their visions and commitment to do the best for the populace of their part of the world brought socioeconomic progression and prosperity to not only the subjects of one of the earliest civilisations 4,000 years ago, but the people of the most populated country today.

During their reign, these three emperors were noted for their feats in the re-engineering of the enormously diverse and monstrous river systems in primordial China for irrigation, inland river navigation and flood mitigation.

Of course, they were not qualified engineers. They were equipped with only basic knowledge that the water will flow towards the lower part of the land, and by travelling the length and breath of the country, they knew her topographic features and characteristics as if they were written and drawn on their palms. In fact, Emperor Shun and Yu were made emperors because of their dedication and leadership in the river engineering works and were most loved and adored by the people. They have no blood ties with their predecessors and were not from royal families.

The perseverance and devotion of these noble rulers finally paid off by the eighth year of the reign of Emperor Great Yu. By that time, more than 4,000 years ago, nine largest river systems in the vast country of China were engineered to flow east into the sea, navigating through at least 11 mountain ranges on their way. The monumental accomplishment resulted in the irrigation of huge plains for agricultural activities, extensive networks of waterways for inland navigation, and minimising the threats and hazards of flooding.

The Great Wall of China had served its defensive purposes and its massive construction work was hailed as one of mankind’s greatest architectural and engineering feats.

In my own humble opinion, the combined effort of Emperors Yao, Shun and Yu to devise and engineer the enormously diverse and monstrous river systems in China for irrigation, navigation and flood mitigation was a much more significant human attainment.

Without extensive irrigation for farmlands, there is no way the country could sustain a population of 1.4 billion citizens today. Without their flood mitigation measures, the disastrous and massive losses of lives and property in Chinese history before them would have continued to ravage the country. It was not only their foresight, but their personal touch to be with the people, to lead them in overcoming the adversities that have made them bigger leaders and rulers than they were.

Hence, I was hopeful that our Prime Minister would visit some of the flood-hit areas during his Chinese New Year visit to the state, and make generous allocations for flood relief assistance and expedite federal financial disbursement for approved flood mitigation plans and projects.

It was unfortunate that he did not respond to the enthusiastic request and reminder by our Chief Minister. Citing concerns for the financial implications on the federal coffers, he left the state for the safer national capital which has all the modern engineering facilities and infrastructure to contain excessive and incessant rainfall.

It is no wonder that the approval rating for his office is on free fall and a citizens’ movement has been initiated to remove him, calling for the restoration of the integrity of the country’s constitutional, legal and administrative institutions. The Chief Minister has made the right move to designate a senior minister to gather all the ministerial and departmental heads for a joint effort to discuss a long-term solution to improve the drainage system to combat and contain flash floods in the cities.

Indeed, we should seriously looking into the development and improvement of existing drainage systems and to devise plans to straightening, deepening, widening, and cementing of the riverbanks and substrates to form canals or monsoon drains in the cities.

There are measures that we can undertake to prevent and mitigate flash floods, definitely not asking the federal works minister to make a call to the sky and say “hello, can you limit the rainfall to 150mm?”

Or can he?