News: Always good that we are prepared for stormy weather

The Star, 9 Jan 2013

THE tropical storm that was anticipated to hit the east coast of the peninsula has fizzled out. It was the tail-end of typhoon Sonamu, which struck the Philippines on Friday, and the authorities were concerned that it might still have some oomph left by the time it reached the shores of the three states on the eastern front Terengganu, Pahang and Kelantan.

We know that the weather is always difficult to predict but is always good to err on the side of caution.

The agencies were all ready and the residents in the anticipated danger zones were alerted ahead. We were well prepared.

Even though the storm has passed, it is necessary to reflect on this issue.

For those who are used to such natural phenomena, this may just be another day in a relatively wet season that has already seen severe flood situations quite recently.

But we must acknowledge that it is hard work for agency workers and also many volunteers each time a situation like this arises.

Disaster relief work comprises many levels, each with its own distinct set of challenges.

From early warning to evacuation procedures, from search and rescue to feeding those housed at temporary shelters, our agencies are not only well equipped but have done an excellent job each time they are called into action.

It is a testimony to their good work that there are few fatalities whenever such natural disasters happen.

Malaysia is blessed that we are spared the kind of disasters for which even the best-prepared rescue teams will not be able to cope.

But we have to be careful that we are not content with how well prepared we are now.

We must think ahead. The vagaries of the weather these days, coupled with global climate change, may make the impossible possible.

As we have seen from recent incidents involving landslides and collapsed slopes, the danger of water is not only in what we see when it comes pouring down.

Floods can happen in one area due to heavy rainfall in another, when natural sponges are compromised due to the destruction of rainforests.

Extensive construction that replaces the permeability of natural soil and vegetation with concrete can also create flood situations in places which may never have experienced floods.

Which is why we must not ignore the needs of our rescue agencies, be it manpower or resources, as they plan ahead to meet future challenges.

Recently, even the fire station in Kuantan was flooded, which is why the Fire and Rescue Department there has moved much of its equipment and personnel to higher ground.

That shows foresight. We are often quick to criticise the shortcomings of government agencies but let us also be fair and acknowledge the good work that they do to ensure the welfare of the people.

And we must also thank the people, including those who may be mobilised from further away, who will always reach out to one another at times like this.

Stormy weather can never be averted but it is good that we know how to be calm before a storm.