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NATURALLY, a tropical rainforest climate like Malaysia is prone to flood. Pristine virgin forests delay the flow of rainwater using the natural peat soil as a sponge. Natural mitigations like lakes, ponds, wetlands and fresh water swamps will play a vital role as well. Human civilisation develops closer to water sources and get exposed to flooding risks.

However, in the name of development, natural flood mitigations are removed and replaced with smaller retention ponds and in some cases, flood mitigation projects. Unfortunately, plantation and agriculture activities covering large swathes of land are not subjected to such requirements. 

The recent flood that hit the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia caused severe damages and loss of life. When it precipitated continuously for more than 12 hours in large areas, authorities should have been on alert. Continuous rainfall will saturate the soil and increase surface runoff drastically. This results in more water collected within a river basin.

Mind you that all drainages are eventually connected to rivers and this increase in water volume will have to be dumped into the sea. In densely populated areas, lesser permeable surfaces also increase surface water flow almost immediately when it rains. 

Areas that are valleys and closer to main river connections become high-risk areas. Many flood as well as drought modelling has been carried out and the situation such as now is predictable. On top of the annual monsoon, there are other seasonal weather patterns that come once in 50 years, 100 years, and the well known El Nino and La Nina conditions. We are also facing an unknown risk parameter from climate change that is affecting the whole world.

There are warnings of heavy rainfall in few more days. Limited sunshine will keep the soil quite saturated and any heavy downpour will pose flooding risk. What are the immediate actions that the government need to take?

Flood simulation report done previously and real-time data by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and other relevant agencies must be used to identify high-risk areas, on top of current affected areas. Using this information, state governments, local authorities and emergency services must be put on standby. Potential high risk areas are closer to river, low land, flat land and areas that have frequent or severe flooding problem.Downstream areas that have dams and major flood pumping stations (including SMART) might also be affected due to release of water and pumping. Precaution and a proper warning mechanism must be put in place to avoid unwanted incidents.Water gates and other mitigating facilities must be kept at an optimum operating condition. Situations similar to Sri Muda, Shah Alam should not recur and hamper recovery.The slope monitoring is under the Works Ministry. Many years ago, the ministry developed visual detection of a failing slope and produce communication materials for simple ways to identify potential slope failures. The ministry should use MySejahtera and other social media platforms to share this information to alert members of public to take precaution and assist in reporting to the authorities for quick action that can save lives and ensure roads are operational during an emergency situation.The government must also utilise telecommunication or handphone signal to identify trapped victims if such incidents recur. This must be done quickly before the phones or devices run out of battery. The government must rope in service providers to assist the authorities. Similarly, can the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission use spotted SMS alerts to high-risk zones through telco companies? When high-risk zones are identified and clustered under certain code, SMS warnings can be sent via signal zoning based on telco companies towers in the identified zones. This will allow anyone within that vicinity to receive warning messages and contact details for guidance.