Absorb New ways to prevent floods


Sponge City: Solutions for China’s Thirsty & Flooded cities

 China’s ‘sponge city’ projects may be worthwhile examples for Malaysia.

“Only about 20~30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the naturual water circulation.– Wen Mei Dubbelaar”

Last week, it was the turn of Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Sungai Buloh to be the latest major urban areas in Malaysia to suffer flash floods (Flash floods wreak havoc in PJ – Nation). Scenes of cars and buildings submerged in muddy water are now almost an everyday thing. The focus should now shift from the bad situations to the solutions.

It was also last week that I attended a briefing organised by civil society groups for Penang and Seberang Perai municipal officials and members. The briefing was on the recent floods.

Later, I came across several articles on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone areas into “sponge cities” to prevent floods and retain rainwater.

The Chinese plan big and fast. It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but it aims to retain 70% of rain in 80% of urban areas by 2020. The sponge concept is set to spread rapidly as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of increased rainfall and floods, and climate change.

The concept figured prominently at the briefing chaired by Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow. Scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the floods.

She contrasted the present situation when rain falls with what used to happen. In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) and into the ground. There was 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water going back to the atmosphere).

The trees and green spaces act as a sponge to absorb the rainwater that infiltrates the soil, preventing the water from building up into flash floods.

Due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with cement and concrete. Now, only 15% of the rain infiltrates the soil, while the runoff has increased to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30%. The sponge now absorbs 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water”. As a result, the water immediately flowed into streams, causing flash floods, even with moderate rainfall.

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling the floods is to reverse the loss of the sponge. In recent decades, Malaysia has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, trees and grass areas into concrete jungles of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car parks.

There now has to be high sensitivity to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, fields and grasslands, and parks. The aim of garden cities is not just to be pleasing to the eye but to be a very important part of development as well.

Now comes the role of sponge cities. The world is applauding the Chinese initiative to counter floods and improve water security by building up the natural cover (or sponge) in its cities.

In 2010, landslides during flooding killed 700 in three quarters of China’s provinces. Last year, rains flooded southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative, which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan. The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • > Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate the ground;
  • > Replacing pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • > Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • > Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 million square feet in Shanghai);
  • > Plant trees on streets and public squares;
  • > Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces; and
  • > Build manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,” said Wen Mei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, in words similar to Dr Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian.

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements. There are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports The Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.

The problem in Wuhan is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building. But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor? So far the cities have received over US$12bil (RM47.4bil) for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, and the rest is from local governments and private developers.

But compare this to the US$100bil (RM395bil) of direct economic losses due to floods in China between 2011 and 2014, plus the human lives lost.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future. Our own governments – federal, state and municipal – should study this option seriously, as the public braces itself for more floods ahead.

– Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Make environment our 2018 priority


Our Environment is Our Life – YouTube

THE year has barely started, and already we have so many reports of weather and climate-related events.

Heavy wind, snow storms and below-freezing temperatures paralysed cities in the United States’ East Coast. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was in chaos with hundreds of flights suspended.

Yet, just weeks previously, big fires linked to a heat wave were sweeping through parts of California on the West Coast, burning 112.000ha of forest and threatening lives and homes.

Colder weather in one place and hotter temperatures in another are signs of global climate change, which can also cause heavier rainfall and drought in different regions.

While it is difficult to pin down any particular incident as a direct result of climate change, it is recognised scientifically that climate change generally exacerbates extreme weather events and may cause some of them.

We can expect the weather, and more broadly the environment, to figure prominently this year.

The alarm bells sounded long ago on the environmental crisis. But it is not easy to achieve a continuous high level of concern among political leaders.

After a calamity and public outrage, there are pledges to correct the situation. However, the interest fades after a while, and not much action is taken, until the next disaster happens.

In Malaysia, people are now looking at the sky constantly to anticipate whether it is going to rain.

Heavy rainfall has been causing floods in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak.

In Penang, severe state-wide flash floods seem to be occurring every few months, with localised flooding in several areas in between. The mud brought down from eroded hill-slopes into overflowing rivers and then into houses, makes floods an even worse nightmare for those affected.

For some unlucky ones, hardly have their houses and furniture been cleaned than they are under one metre of water again through a new flood.

Heavier rain and more floods is the new normal in Malaysia. There has been an increase in rainfall for most parts of the country in 2000-2009 compared to 1970-1999, with the major increase in 2005-2009, according to a 2012 paper by Yap Kok Seng, then the head of the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MMD), and his colleagues.

The global temperature increase has led to changes in weather including major wind patterns, amount and intensity of precipitation, and increased frequency of severe storms and weather extremes, according to the paper, Malaysia Climate Change Scenarios.

In Malaysia since the 1980s, there had been increasing number of days of extreme rainfall events, extreme wind events and annual thunderstorm days, added the paper.

Unfortunately the situation will worsen. A study published on Jan 10, whose authors are affiliated with Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, predicted that millions more people will be affected by river flooding as global warming increases severe rainfall in the next 20 years.

In Asia, the most affected region, people at risk from floods will rise to 156 million from the present 70 million in the next 20 years.

Global warming increases the risk of flooding because rain during an extreme downpour “increases exponentially” as temperatures rise, the institute’s Anders Levermann told Reuters.

“We have to adapt to global warming. Doing nothing will be dangerous,” he said.

Countries will have to act urgently and make major investments in flood protection to boost their flood defences, according to the report.

This advice surely applies to Malaysia as one of the countries already being affected by heavier rainfall and extensive river flooding.

Flood mitigation measures must be increased, including de-silting, widening and deepening rivers, improving urban drainage, strengthening river banks, redirecting water flows, constructing tidal gates, and pumping excess water into ponds.

Even more important is flood prevention. A main cause of the floods is deforestation, leading to the loss of the forests’ valuable roles in soil and water retention and climate regulation.

It is really short-sighted and irrational to damage and destroy forests, especially forest reserves and water catchment areas.

Exposed soils are swept by rain into rivers, clogging up streams and drains with mud and causing floods downstream in the towns and villages, while also depriving us of much-needed water supply.

There is a great deal of public concern over recent developments that threaten forests and hill lands in the country.

These include the de-gazetting of the Ulu Muda water catchment area in Kedah; the de-gazetting of hill lands in Penang that previously were protected under the Land Conservation Act and which are now being “developed” with the aid of higher permitted density ratio; the conversion of 4,515ha forest reserve to cultivate oil palm plantations in Terengganu (being opposed by WWF-Malaysia); and protests over the imminent loss of a forested park in Taman Rimba Kiara in Kuala Lumpur to make way for housing.

Federal, state and local governments should give priority to environmental rehabilitation of damaged forests and hills, prevent damage to the coastal ecosystem including mangroves, and take comprehensive flood prevention and mitigation measures.

They should stop approving environmentally harmful projects in ecologically sensitive areas.

They must make major financial allocations to protect and rehabilitate the environment, and implement finance measures to prevent and manage the floods.

As so many scientists are warning, and as more and more local communities and citizen groups are demanding, the time to act on the environment is now. Let us hope that in 2018 these calls will be heeded.

Global trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Who is sabotaging Penang undersea tunnel project?


Penang govt to blame, says Lau

PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional should not be blamed as it is DAP’s own doing that “sabotaged” the Penang undersea tunnel project, said Gerakan vice-president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau (pic).

He added it began when the DAP-led Penang government failed to provide feasibility reports on the project, which were supposed to be completed by April 2016.

“You missed the deadline and in October 2017, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) said there is no more urgency to complete the reports.

“Based on the original timeline, the first phase of the project was supposed to start construction in the first quarter of 2015 and completed by this year.

“As of now, this first phase has not even started construction,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Despite the multiple delays in the reports and the construction starting date, he said the Penang government did not appear to have penalised the SPV.

He said when the project was awarded, a statement was issued stating that shareholders of the SPV consortium are China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), Zenith Construction, Juteras Sdn Bhd and Sri Tinggi Sdn Bhd.

“But today, CRCC, BUCG and Sri Tinggi were no longer listed as shareholders while Juteras Sdn Bhd is listed as winding up – leaving only one (Zenith Construction) out of the four shareholders in the agreement.

“Despite a material change of the financial and technical strength promised during the award and what it is now, the Penang government still does not appear to want to cancel the project or penalise the SPV,” he said.

“Even five years after the contract was awarded, the SPV still only has paid-up capital of RM26.5mil – way below the RM381mil minimum paid-up capital required by the Penang government to deliver the project.

“Meanwhile, the SPV is on course to make billions in two property projects valued at RM800mil and RM15bil respectively,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barisan Nasional Strategic Communications deputy director Datuk Eric See-To said the agreement shown to the media by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was different from the one MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said was not stamped.

The agreement shown by Lim in a press conference on Friday was between the Penang state government with Consortium Zenith-BUCG; and not between the state and CRCC.

Previously, the Penang state government had shown a copy of a letter of support from the CRCC to prove that it is a party to the SPV awarded to undertake the undersea tunnel project.

On Tuesday, Dr Wee’s statement noted that the Acknowledgement of Commitment signed by the state government with CRCC was not a legally binding document and was hence not stamped.



Related Link:


Penang has enough roads and linkages, say activists – Nation

 

I was referring to three paired road projects, says Guan Eng – Nation …


Ti slams Penang govt over lack of transparency – Nation


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Tough questions on Penang turnel project; Engineering Consultant arrested in probe


 

 

 

In-depth query: A screen grab of the video where Dr Wee demanded explanations over the controversial Penang undersea tunnel.
Dr Wee, is trained as a civil engineer has a Master’s in traffic engineering and a PhD in transportation planning, believed to have worked as an Environmental Impact Assessment and Traffic Impact Assessment consultant for more than a decade. He is currently a minister in the
Prime Minister’s Department
.

Wee poses more questions to Guan Eng on tunnel project

Wee raises doubt over paid-up capital and ability of SPV – Nation

Lim: Contract between CRCC and Penang govt legally binding …

PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong threw hard-hitting questions at the Penang government, demanding an explanation for the controversial undersea tunnel project.

The MCA deputy president raised major concerns in videos uploaded in two parts to MCA’s YouTube channel.

He zeroed in on the changes in the paid-up capital of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and how two Chinese construction giants have “disappeared” from the SPV shareholding.

He also touched on the state government’s “agreement” with China Railway Construction Corpo­ration Ltd (CRCC) and Penang’s insistence that no money was paid for the project.

In the videos, also uploaded on Dr Wee’s Facebook page, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department had a whiteboard to his left showing the changes in the shareholding while a television screen to his right displayed various documents.

Dr Wee wanted Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to clarify why the SPV Consortium Zenith Construc­tion Sdn Bhd’s paid-up capital was reduced from RM4.6bil to RM70.5mil.

He said while Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) was no longer a shareholder in the SPV, CRCC was never in the picture.

Dr Wee said back in March 4, 2013, the state government’s official newsletter Buletin Mutiara published an article quoting state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus as saying the SPV had a paid-up capital of RM4.6bil, with Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd and CRCC jointly holding a 70% stake in it.

“We are in great shock because just days ago, CRCC went on record to deny ever being a shareholder and developer of the undersea tunnel SPV.

“Without the participation of CRCC and BUCG, the actual capital of the other component SPV back then is only RM8.2mil,” said Dr Wee, who is trained as a civil engineer and has a Master’s in traffic engineering and a PhD in transportation planning.

He, however, said the SPV had a total paid-up capital of RM70.5mil.

Dr Wee added that currently, Zenith Construction has a 47.12% equity in the SPV, Juteras Sdn Bhd (0.75%); Kenanga Nominees (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd (38.92%) and Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd, 13.21%).

He also revealed that Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd was only registered on July 5, 2012, one day before the state government invited the consortium to submit a request for proposal (RFP).

“Chief Minister, you may argue that they formed the consortium just one day before to make it to the tender.

“But bear in mind your state secretary said the consortium was selected based on the financial and technical strength of CRCC and BUCG,” he said, adding that Zenith Construction was only less than three months old when it was then invited to participate in the pre-qualification for the tender.

Dr Wee also said that Acknowled­gement of Commitment signed by the state government with CRCC was not a legally binding document.

“Where is the stamping of documents as required and which is the Court of Arbitration to arbitrate disputes?” he asked.

Dr Wee also questioned Lim’s stand that not a single sen was paid when state exco member Lim Hock Seng replied in the state assembly on March 19 last year that a land swap deal worth RM208mil was identified.

“The said land has been developed and sales of properties for the City of Dreams (which is built on the land) are ongoing. Aren’t you aware of that?

Dr Wee also urged Lim to give a detailed breakdown of how Consor­tium Zenith reaped a significant after-tax profit of RM60mil for the financial year that ended on Aug 31, 2015, when it had only conducted studies and had yet to start any construction work.- The Star

Engineering Consultant arrested in tunnel probe 

‘Datuk Seri’ remanded for five days in Penang tunnel probe – Nation 

Datuk Seri remanded in probe

Magistrate Ainna Sherina Saipolamin allowed the 62-year-old “Datuk Seri” to be held in custody until Jan 29.

Engineering consultant remanded for five days – Nation

 

In custody: The consultant being taken out of the magistrate’s court in Putrajaya. — Bernama

 

PETALING JAYA: A senior engineering consultant in her 50s is the latest to be detained in connection with the probe over controversies surrounding the Penang undersea tunnel project.

The consultant is believed to have forged claim documents for the feasibility studies valued at RM305mil for the mega project of three main roads and an undersea tunnel to the state government, said a source familiar with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation.

The woman is expected to be remanded at the Putrajaya magistrate’s court today.

She was arrested at MACC headquarters in Putrajaya at 6.10pm yesterday after her statement was recorded.

“The investigators are trying to determine if other individuals were involved in the preparation of the falsified documents,” the source added.

The engineering consultant is the third person to be arrested in MACC’s investigations into the Penang undersea tunnel project.

Two high-ranking Datuks of development and construction companies were earlier arrested on Jan 9 before being remanded for six days beginning Jan 10.

The remand was then extended for another five days from Jan 15.

They were released on MACC bail of RM200,000 each on Jan 19 by the Putrajaya magistrate’s court.

On Monday, MACC deputy chief commissioner (operation) Datuk Seri Azam Baki had said that more individuals would be hauled up over the project.

The RM6.3bil mega project includes building the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in north Butterworth, 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, 5.7km Air Itam-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

The MACC has since recorded statements from more than 70 people and visited more than 40 premises in the course of their investigation.

By Royce Tan The Star

State govt can only hold SPV liable, says Wee

PETALING JAYA: Although Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has reiterated that not a single sen was paid for the feasibility study of the undersea tunnel, the fact remained that it was paid in kind, said Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.

Dr Wee, who is MCA deputy president, said the crux of the problem was that the state government had no contractual nexus with the contractor.

“The state government can only hold the special purpose vehicle (SPV) liable, not the contractor.

“Don’t confuse the people with the SPV and the contractor. SPV means you can hold it liable.

“If a contractor is subsequently awarded by the SPV, that’s between the contractor and the SPV.

“If the SPV fails to pay the contractor, the contractor has no obligations (to construct),” he said.

He added that he had conducted a comprehensive research and he knew what happened.

“I welcome this project, but it must be carried out in a proper manner. This is what I want.

“Don’t blame others. If at all you need to blame somebody, it is your SPV that you appointed.

“They keep on delaying the report, not us. We have no say in the report and we’ve not even seen it,” said Dr Wee.- The Star


Related Links:

 Difficult questions over tunnel sea project has party in a tight spot …

 

Contract value of roads increased significantly, says See-To – Nation …

 

Penang has enough roads and linkages, say activists – Nation |



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Penang hit by floods again !


GEORGE TOWN: Some 20 houses located on a slope in Hong Seng Estate in Mount Erskine were flooded due to blocked underground drainage.

“Not again!” was the reaction of factory worker S. Kalaiselvi, 42, who found herself neck-deep in water at her house at 2am yesterday after a three-hour downpour.

She waded through the water to higher ground with her parents, who are in their 60s.

“I have been living here for 26 years and only now am I seeing such floods,” said Kalaiselvi, who also had to move out when her house was hit by the massive floods on Nov 4 and 5 last year.

Her father Subramanian Peru­mal, 68, said he was still waiting for the relevant authorities to resolve the problem.

At the site, firemen had to install a water pump to draw out the rainwater, which flooded most of the units to waist level at one point.

It was the third time that the area was flooded since October last year.

Last Oct 30, blocked underground drainage caused floodings affecting six houses during an evening downpour, followed by massive floods during the Nov 4 and 5 storm.

On Sept 29 last year, seven houses in the estate were also affected by soil erosion.

Consultant engineer Datuk Lim Kok Khong had said the soil erosion was due to water seeping under the ground.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng, who has been barred from helping out with the registration of flood victims for the one-off RM700 aid given by the Penang government, was also there but offered no concrete solution to the floods in the area.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey said nine houses had to be demolished to make way for repair works.

She said they had offered owners of the nine affected houses a low medium-cost unit each as compensation, but the residents insisted on staying put.

Earlier, Penang Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the latest floods were caused by the continuous downpour that began on Thursday evening.

“The rain also coincided with a 2.34mm high tide at 2.30am yesterday,” he said.

Chow said the short-term measures to deal with the floods were to dig and deepen the rivers, and carry out upgrading and cleaning works at riverbanks to ensure that there were no blockages.

In Bukit Mertajam, a low wall sealing off the entrance to a lorry driver’s house prevented it from being submerged in floodwaters all over again.

While the water on the road outside was up to knee level, Heng Kai Chin’s home remained relatively dry, thanks to the metre-high barrier of cement and bricks.

But Heng, 43, still skipped work yesterday to keep an eye on the flooding.

A state flood report said water had entered at least 100 homes in Bukit Mertajam.

Source: The Staronline

Related Links:

Penang struck by yet another deluge

PENANGITES woke up to a cloudy and rainy morning as continuous downpour lasting for hours inundated several parts of the state.
Wet day: Students wading through floodwaters at SMK Mak Mandin in
Butterworth, Penang. (Left) Motorists braving through the waters on the
flyover at Sungai Nibong, Bayan Lepas. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star and
social mediapic

 

 

Metre-high wall keeps flood out of his home

More rain in Sabah and S’wak

Fish and veggie prices go up due to scarce supply

Two primary schools in Sabah remain closed

Flood-hit students eager to return to school

 

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Wanted: Leaders who listen !


Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5636613745001

 Grievances from residents warning of environmental damages must not fall on deaf ears

 “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

MY family home in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam in Penang, is more than 56 years old. That’s about my age, and it has never been hit by floods. Not once!

But last week, my parents – dad is 92 years old and mum, 86, – had their sleep rudely interrupted sometime after 1am by water gushing into their home.

They have been sleeping on the ground floor for years now because they are too old to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

The water that flowed into their room almost touched the top of their bed but fortunately, one of my nephews and his wife from Kuala Lumpur were staying over that night.

It was so fortunate that they were there to calm my anxious parents down and assure them all would be fine. They managed to comfort my stunned folks, who had never experienced such an unpleasant situation before. My father had to be carried to the room upstairs as the house remained flooded throughout the early morning.

Our home was filled with layers of mud the next day and the cars parked outside were all damaged. They sadly look like write-offs.

My father’s pride and joy, his first-generation Proton Saga car – which he bought in 1985 – is now unusable.

A week on, my brothers and nieces are still cleaning up the mess from the massive flood. They haven’t had the time or mood to even assess the financial losses.

And bound by a common sentiment as Penangites, they are tired of the blame game, a trade the state’s politicians have plied to near-perfection.

How many times can the finger be pointed at the previous government, with the incumbent almost 10 years in power? And how many more times can we blame it on torrential rain, which came from Vietnam – or wherever? Worst of all is, when discussions are mooted on flood issues, the voices of the people are swiftly silenced.

It appears that even to talk about hillslope development, one would have to contest in the elections, or be perceived to be challenging the state government, or more extremely, be some kind of lackey in cahoots with the Federal Government.

Blaming everyone else except oneself is simply a way of covering up one’s weaknesses. But the discerning public, in a maturing democracy with heightened transparency and a huge middle class like Penang, will not tolerate such short-term manoeuvring for long.

Suddenly, civil society – a buzzword among politicians – has vanished, with NGOs now regarded as irritants and an affront to the state establishment. Politics is apparently the monopoly of politicians now.

As the National Human Rights Society aptly puts it, “With the benefit of hindsight, we are sure that the Penang government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

“This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the fundamental human rights of the populace at large.”

Perhaps, the state political elites, many of whom aren’t pure blood Penangites, don’t realise the state is the home of a vibrant civil society, with many active NGOs and activists who are respected influencers of society.

Having walked through the corridors of power and appreciated power’s pleasures, perks and the adulation it brings, maybe it is becoming much harder for people to take criticism. This is, in fact, a reflection of the arrogance of power.

Many have developed thin skin now, with little tolerance for the slightest form of criticism. If anyone even dares raise their voice, an army of cybertroopers, hiding behind anonymity, are unleashed to attack them.

Freedom of speech, it seems, is only the domain of the opposition, with some media (regarded as unfriendly) unceremoniously ridiculed and questioned for their attendance at press conferences.

There are politicians from the Federal Government, too, who are shamelessly cashing in on the flood situation in Penang.

Their relief work must be splashed across news pages, and they have to be seen wading through the flood waters for dramatic purpose. Phua Chu Kang’s iconic yellow boots could likely be the hottest item in the state, as politicians bask in the media’s glare.

Ridiculous remarks have also been passed, one even blaming the state government, saying it has earned the wrath of God.

The rain and floods will go away, eventually. Penangites are stakeholders in the state, and they don’t only make up politicians. The state doesn’t belong to the state government or the opposition.

Caught up in the thick of the action, we seem to have forgotten that the hills are crumbling even without rain. As a stern reminder, just last month, a landslide buried some people in Tanjung Bungah. Investigations on that tragedy are still ongoing.

Basically, the trees – which act as sponge on the hills – are gone. We don’t need to be soil experts to know that.

The grumblings are growing louder because the hills have been progressively going bald in recent years. But the voice of discontent has fallen on deaf ears.

Penangites are alarmed at what they are seeing, and they don’t like it one bit, as much as they understand that land is scarce on the island and property developers need to source some to build homes on.

While it’s easy to hang the Penang state government out to dry for its follies, it’s difficult to ignore how the floods in the east coast states have become annual affairs, too. So, what effective flood mitigation plans have been put in place there?

Kelantan has suffered senselessly, and after more than a year of having been subjected to Mother Nature’s havoc, many victims have yet to recover from their losses. Flooding is obviously nothing exclusive and doesn’t discriminate. Every state has, unfortunately, experienced it in some shape or form.

So, irrespective of location, when life returns to normal, you can expect the politicians to resume their old denying ways.

If there’s a thread that binds our politicians – regardless of which side of the political divide they come from – it is their inability to apologise for their mistakes, despite waxing lyrical about accountability.

Don’t expect them to say sorry, because an apology would be admission of guilt, or worse, a sign of weakness in their realm of inflated egos.

And to put things into perspective, perhaps we could learn a lesson from a quote by prominent American pastor Andy Stanley – “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
On the beat Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Sustainable Development in Penang


Why did MBPP approve the Tanjung Bungah development project?
Read more at https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/399357#qbRd534yu1JfC551.99 

The never ending torrential rain in Penang over the weekend was an act of God. A natural phenomenon which is a perpetual feature of our equatorial climate. Nobody would wish to have the heavens open up with such vengeance on any state.

Naturally, when the rain intensity is so great, floods will occur. We should always be vigilant during the annual monsoon season.

Flood mitigation starts from the local council and state government. Every council must take into consideration the terrain, rainfall and built up surfaces in their area. While we can always engineer ourselves out of a flood, there is always a cost versus benefit consideration. There are some low-lying areas in a flood plain that will perpetually be flooded when it rains and if we situate developments in those areas, we have to be prepared for such events.

On a small island like Penang, with its hilly terrain, engineering flood mitigation measures must be a long term and all-inclusive plan encompassing all urban growth zones. It will not be cheap, mainly due to the high land cost and the expense incurred to provide adequate storage for the surface runoff.

As the island develops, open permeable spaces will continue to diminish causing higher runoff to flow downstream into the coastal areas. Couple that with tidal phenomenon and the incoming surface runoff will easily overwhelm the drainage system causing a rise in water level.

The question we should all be asking is how do we reduce the incidence of flooding? Unfortunately, especially with our tropical climate, it is quite impossible to entirely eliminate flooding. Anybody that promises that is telling you a blatant lie.

With the right planning and engineering, we can reduce the incidence of flooding and lower the magnitude of the damage caused.

Penang’s terrain bears much similarity to Hong Kong. Being in the path of tropical storms and typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, Hong Kong bears the brunt of some of the regions worst storms. On average, six tropical cyclones slam into Hong Kong every year. While flooding still occurs in Hong Kong, they have managed to reduce the damage it causes.

There are many lessons Penang can learn from Hong Kong.

If DAP still wants to continue to develop the state in a sustainable manner, they must implement special flood mitigation requirements in addition to the ones provided by the JPS Masma manual. If the hills are being cleared, the increased runoff will tax the existing drainage system. Siltation will occur, evident from the brownish flood waters, as topsoil and sediment from the hills wash down into the coastal plain. These sediments, unless periodically maintained, will clog existing waterways, thus reducing drainage efficiency.

The ultimate problem with highly built up areas is the immense volume of runoff from storms. Sufficient storage areas in the form of retention ponds and green open areas should be provided to retard the flow of water into the rivers.

Due to its terrain and the high-density development on the island, it is expensive to provide adequate stormwater storage within a development.

Catchment areas next to hillslopes also have a large volume of runoff moving at a high velocity. The damaging effect of erosion is quite evident on many of these hill projects. Sometimes water currents are so strong, even paved roads can be ripped apart.

Some of the more innovative solutions for Hong Kong’s flooding problems like the underground stormwater storage system has worked very well over the years together with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan.

The Drainage Services Department of the Hong Kong SAR constructed massive underground tanks to route surface runoff intercepted from uphill catchments during storms only to slowly release the stormwater into the natural waterways when the storm abates.

The Penang state government has a duty of care to the residents of Penang to ensure that disasters of such proportion should not happen.

Over the past four years, a total of 119 incidences of flooding has been recorded in Penang. Penang is an economic powerhouse and home to some of the world most high-tech electronics producers.

The state government has to provide a safe and secure environment for investor to house their production facilities and assets. Otherwise, multinationals might shun the island because of the cost of protecting and insuring their priceless assets. Productivity would be affected and the cost to remedy the damage.

We will only find out the true financial cost of this disaster over the next few weeks.

For Penang to recover from this tragedy, federal funding is required to repair all the damaged infrastructure within the state.

The very least they can do is to provide a COMPETENT flood mitigation plan for the state starting with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan Study.

The Penang government has to be ACCOUNTABLE to the people and not private developers. If certain waterways and catchment areas have to be gazetted as permanent drainage and storage areas, then so be it.

The safety and well-being of the Rakyat has to come first. Lastly, in the interest of  TRANSPARENCY, Penang has to launch an inquiry into how the local council approved property developments on Class III slopes without adequate slope protection.

The collapse of many retaining structures and slope failures in such risky locations is cause to for concern because as of right now, any dwelling structure located downstream to those development could possibly be the scene for the next Highland Towers.

Kong Len Wei@konglen wei

Source: by Kong Len Wei, a Civil engineer  and councilor for Majlis Perbandaran Manjung and the Chairman of MCA Youth Perak Young Professional’s Bureau
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