West Malaysia has been hit by floods for the last two weeks. Some 20 people have died and an estimated 100,000 have been evacuated to temporary shelters. Both in extent of damage and in surface area affected, it is being called the worst flood in 100 years but it may well be the worst flood on record. Much of the southern state of Johor is flooded and many parts of neighbouring Pahang as well.
The floods were due to extremely heavy and prolonged rains in combination with high tidal levels at the coast which preventd the flood waters from disappating into the sea. In the opinion of this observer, it is no coicidence that this is happening in 2007, the year climatologists
believe will prove to be the hottest year on record for the whole world. It is another predictable weather event associated with climate change.
The economic cost will be high. Immediate damage costs is estimated to be at least Ringgit 100 million. Another Ringgit 500 million has been pledged to help businesses recover. Palm oil production, one of the main sources of income for the country has been down 30% since November.
Disease is the next concern. Much of the environmental ills in Malaysia is rearing its head during this crisis including its polluted rivers with untreated sewage and open landfills. For these reasons, outbreaks of waterborne diseases is a concern. Already 2 have died and another 5 others taken ill by the relatively rare rat urine fever or leptospirosis.
Neighbouring Singapore is also experiencing flooding but not to the extent and severity of the Malaysian floods and many people are asking why. In my opinion, the major contributing factor has to be the state of Malaysian rivers and drainage canals. Due to lack of protection of watersheds from logging and development, we get rapid runoff during rains causing rivers to swell quickly. The rivers are also chocked with sediment from hill developments which affect their ability to cope with extra rainfall. Lack of river basin management also causes the rivers to be choked with solid waste.
Another contributing factor on the Malaysian side is the loss of the mangroves which when present can act as a buffer, reservoir for flood water and reduce the impact of tidal levels.
Coincidentally, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted by scientists on Wednesday the 17th January 2007 to 11.55 pm, an advance of two minutes towards Doomsday. This symbolic clock has been maintained since 1947 to show how close man comes to destruction. This was the 18th time the clock has been adjusted over the years, both forwards and backwards. In the past, the main concern was nuclear war.
On this occassion, the proliferation of countries like North Korea with nuclear capability was one reason for adjusting the clock but also for the first time, climate change was the major factor.
Cosmologist and mathematician Stephen W. Hawking said global warming has eclipsed other threats to the planet, such as terrorism. “Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people,” Hawking said. “Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global warming rather than the war on terror.”
“We are transforming, even ravaging the entire biosphere. These environmentally driven threats — threats without enemies — should loom as large as did the East-West divide during the Cold War era,” said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, Britain’s academy of science.
We may have already entered the Day After Tomorrow.