Cycle of poverty in Malaysia's Kelantan state amid annual floods

Cycle of poverty in Malaysia's Kelantan state amid annual floods

Putrajaya has pledged to upgrade the infrastructure under a new five-year plan to tackle the flooding.

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A young boy playing in floodwater outside a relief centre at Pasir Mas, Kelantan on Dec 4, 2019. (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

KOTA BHARU, Kelantan: In Zalina Mahmud’s home, clothes hang from a rope tied from one wall to another. 

She has stopped buying replacement furniture because the annual floods will damage them months later.

“I know I need to keep trying for my children but it’s really not easy. It’s exhausting and worse, it’s expensive,” she said when interviewed by CNA at a flood relief centre.

“It’s so bad that we have literally learnt to make do with whatever we have and stopped replacing (the furniture) yearly ... (We have) given up,” said the 41-year-old who has eight children. 

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Zalina Mahmud's children playing with floodwater outside a relief centre in Pasir Mas, Kelantan. (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

She lives in Pasir Mas, Kelantan, which currently has the highest number of people displaced due to annual floods resulting from the monsoon season. The recurring flooding and subsequent rebuilding have trapped some on the eastern coast of peninsula Malaysia in a cycle of poverty.

READ: More than 15,000 people affected in Kelantan, Terengganu as flood situation worsens

READ: Harrowing rescue mission for loggers stranded in flooded Kelantan forest

Despite not spending money on replacement furniture after the waters receded, Mdm Zalina’s family has struggled to make ends meet.

“We need to replace the more important things like school supplies for our children," she said.

After floods late last year, her children waited for almost half a year before they got new school supplies. 

"That’s how long it takes us to save up. Not to mention that my husband (who is a farmer) cannot go to work during the floods.”


With many houses being damaged, people are now depending on government aid and supplies to get by. 

“But there isn’t enough food, especially for the children,” said Mohd Azuari Daud, 36.

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Mohd Azuari Daud sells his snacks for whatever price the villagers can pay. (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

He felt a need to do something. “People already have it bad as it is. So since I usually run a roadside snack stall, I decided I’ll sell it to them at whatever price they can give," he said.

“I can’t give it for free because I’m also struggling financially. The yearly floods take a large part of our savings and every year we scramble to get our lives back together once the waters recede," he said. 

Asked if he was upset that the government has not been able to resolve the problem despite repeated promises, Mr Mohd Azuari said he, like many other Kelantanese, had accepted the floods as a way of life for a long time. 

“Last time we would just say it’s the way of nature and that we needed to be grateful to be alive. But now we know that this problem can be resolved.

“The government has better do something about it,” he said. 


On Thursday (Dec 5), Defence Minister Mohammad Sabu told reporters after visiting the flood zone that the federal government will launch a five-year plan to tackle the flood problem.

He said that serious efforts are underway following financial allocations by the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources.

When announcing the 2020 budget, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng set aside RM443.9 million (US$106.4 million) for a flood mitigation plan and RM150 million to maintain the management of the existing flood retention ponds.

Mr Mohammad said the water ministry will now allocate funds to build dams and upgrade the existing drainage and irrigation system. 

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Malaysian Defence Minister Mohammad Sabu speaking to reporters in Kelantan on Dec 5, 2019. (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

He added that the gradual improvement in terms of hardware would ensure that the floods are dealt with better next year. 

Asked if the previous government failed to effectively address the flood issue, the defence minister replied: “The Barisan Nasional government did its best”. 

Under Najib Razak, the federal government in 2015 had allocated RM500 million for rehabilitation and RM800 million for repairs and reconstruction. 

At that time, those affected also received a RM500 distress fund per family for the initial recuperation period.

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Residents of Tanah Merah using a boat to transport things out of their flooded home. (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail reportedly said the current government needed a lot more money to fix the flood problems. 

“Based on an evaluation by several parties, Sungai Golok requires an RM700 million flood mitigation allocation, while the one in Besut requires RM400 million.

“So this is not something that is simple and easy to handle. But the government will work towards it,” she said.


For the elderly, annual floods have taken a toll on them.

“I can’t do this anymore! I’m just too old to be keeping at it you know,” said 84-year old Nik Wan Irzan.

“For a very long time I have been trying to deal with these floods on my own, but now as I’m older it’s getting harder. Someone needs to do something." 

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A clinic in Kelantan not accessible to the public due to rising floodwaters, (Photo: D Kanyakumari)

READ: Boy, 7, dead as number of flood victims rises on Malaysia's east coast

Mr Nik Wan said that he has been living in Pasir Mas for over 50 years. His wife passed away in 2013 and while he has four children, they are all living in other states.

“I’ve tried contacting my children in hope that at least one of them could take me in, but neither my three sons nor my daughter are contactable anymore,” he said, pointing at his old mobile phone.

He shuddered at the thought of having to clean up and repair his small home once the floodwaters recede. 

“Something needs to change, I can’t die like this,” he exclaimed. 

As of Thursday, more than 10,000 people in Kelantan and Terengganu were displaced by the floods. 

The situation is expected to worsen in the coming days.

Source: CNA/kd(aw)