Better communication, teamwork between agencies crucial in managing future natural disasters, says Malaysia PM Ismail Sabri
Addressing criticisms that he was not actively helping affected residents, Mr Ismail Sabri said he was on the ground “from the very first day” of the Selangor floods.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has stressed that better communication and teamwork between agencies are crucial for the country to manage future natural disasters.
Mr Ismail Sabri was speaking during a special parliamentary session on Thursday (Jan 20) for MPs to discuss the flood crisis that hit many states across the country over the last few months.
“I view the disaster from the point of view of not just the destruction it brings about, but also the positive aspects such as how it presents an opportunity for us to learn so that we are prepared and resilient to disasters in the future,” he said.
He outlined that four “episodes” of heavy rain took place from Nov 10, 2021 to Jan 4 led to widespread floods in Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Johor, Melaka, Terengganu, Sabah as well as Kuala Lumpur.
He said that in total, 136,030 people were displaced from their homes and 55 people had died, quoting reports from the police.
Mr Ismail Sabri further cited a key moment during the episodes when torrential downpour on Dec 18 led to floods across many areas of the populous state of Selangor.
He cited how the rainfall on that day was at 380 millimetres, the equivalent of a month’s rainfall.
Mr Ismail Sabri noted how Malaysia’s meteorological department had released “6 significant weather warnings” prior to Dec 18, but these warnings were not heeded by some agencies directly involved in disaster management.
He said they ignored these warnings as many of the officials expected only areas in the east coast of peninsular Malaysia to be impacted by the heavy rains.
Addressing the floods in general, Mr Ismail Sabri said that these disaster agencies had weaknesses in understanding the disaster management protocols before, during and post-disaster situations.
He also identified that the absence of the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) at the state and district level meant that it was difficult to coordinate the respective agencies directly.
“Teamwork across various parties, such as the state government and the district offices are important to ensure the effectiveness of the country’s disaster management,” said Mr Ismail Sabri.
He said that the relaying of relevant information has to be done quicker and more accurately to the relevant agencies and residents.
He cited how information can be relayed via WhatsApp push notifications by working together with the relevant telecommunication companies.
“Visual simulations for floods, infographics and other tools may also be considered and shared through the mass media and social media,” said Mr Ismail Sabri.
The prime minister added that it was important to empower to role of civil society organisations in disaster management.
“Community empowerment needs to be further enhanced to create a community that is resilient to disasters. The role of each community member as a first responder in the event of any disaster should be implemented and it should not rely solely on the rescue agencies,” he added.
“I TOOK IMMEDIATE ACTION”
During his speech, Mr Ismail Sabri also defended allegations that he was not actively helping flood victims during the flood crisis.
He explained that when it became clear that the flood situation in Selangor had turned critical on Dec 18, he headed to the National Disaster Control Centre (NDCC) to be briefed on the situation.
“There, I took immediate action to activate the hotline to ease communication of queries and complaints relating to floods via NDCC,” he said.
Mr Ismail Sabri added that he had also contacted the heads of the military, army and police to mobilise their officers and assets to help with the rescue efforts in Selangor.
Thereafter, he headed to a flood zone area in Kampong Bukit Lanchong, which was among the worst hit areas to survey the situation until the wee hours of the morning.
"So, if some of you claim that you did not see my face during the flood crisis, from the very first day I was already on the ground,” said Mr Ismail Sabri.
“But I do not know about the others, I did not see them, MPs, state assemblymen … some MPs went missing during that period,” he added.
The prime minister’s comment drew outbursts from some MPs, including members of the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition.
MP for Shah Alam Khalid Shah Alam said: “We were on the ground too, the prime minister is the one who failed to mobilise.”
MP for Kampar Thomas Su said: “The prime minister was there just to wave at flood victims.”
Following interruptions by MPs across both sides of the aisle, Mr Ismail Sabri said that a special meeting will be called with chief ministers, state secretaries and state government to discuss the flood issue.
He said the meeting aims to formulate comprehensive long -term plans to overcome the flood problem in the country.
MINISTERS WENT MISSING WHEN FLOODS HIT: ANWAR IBRAHIM
In his speech, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he acknowledged that the prime minister was indeed on the ground when the floods hit various parts of Selangor.
However, he pointed out that several cabinet ministers were not seen on the ground but instead decided to be away from the country during the flood disaster.
Mr Anwar made a pointed reference to Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man who was away to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
“People are dying, houses are being destroyed, and they choose to perform Umrah during this period. This has to be corrected, and a proper explanation needs to be given to the people so that it doesn't happen again,” said the Port Dickson MP and chairman of the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
“Even if the minister had left before the floods, they should come back quickly. So for the prime minister to insinuate that some opposition MPs were not seen, not present, I don’t think this is fair,” added Mr Anwar.
The Parti Keadilan Rakyat president also called for the government to enforce logging companies to compensate flood victims whose homes were damaged by landslides, reportedly exacerbated by logging activity nearby.
In some areas such as Pahang, mudfloods and timber logs were washed away, raising questions as to whether logging had a role in worsening the impact to some villagers.
“Look at the profits made by logging companies … I estimate at RM18 billion (US$4.30 billion). When there are victims of floods, mudslides, due to the logging work, there has to be a set regulations to force these companies to pay compensation to these victims,” he added.