Development can Worsen the effects of Flash Floods in Penang
Risks of mudslides are increased when hillsides are stripped of trees. Photo Credit: Flickr
In a tropical country like Malaysia where vast amounts of water can pour down from the sky in a few short minutes, flash floods are nothing unusual. Yet the severity of deluges can be influenced by manmade causes. These include mudslides and landslides on hillsides denuded of trees that would otherwise serve as natural barriers for floods and keep the soil firmly in place.
A case in point are massive flash floods that environmentalists in Penang believe have been worsened by continued deforestation on the island. While large swathes of the island were recently submerged under flood water after heavy downpours, several communities in Tanjung Bungah and Paya Terubong suffered from mudslides. Local conservationists argue that this was the result of soil erosion exacerbated by forest clearing and development, which has exposed several local communities to the risk of greater damage from seasonal floods.
“All the flood mitigation measures will prove ineffective and inadequate if we do not address the root causes of flash floods and landslides, which stem from increased water run-off from removal of trees and hill-cutting,” stressed Mohamed Idris, president of the conservationist group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the civil society group Consumers Association of Penang. “The Penang government needs to halt this wrong kind of developments and must genuinely be more environment-friendly by taking measures to protect all hills, plant more trees and truly ensure sustainable development,” he insisted.
Such preventive measures will be especially important in the face of climate change that is bound to bring increasingly erratic weather patterns. Heavy downpours might become more frequent or devastating. “Many countries are taking adaptation measures seriously in light of climate change impacts but Penang and the rest of Malaysia are very far away from having proper adaptation plans to cope with more extreme rainfalls which will happen more frequently,” the conservationist notes. “It is high time to learn from our mistakes, take corrective measures urgently and have proper adaptation plans in place.”
It is high time indeed.