News: ‘Weather system may be illegal’

The Star, 18 Nov 2017

PETALING JAYA: Penang’s move to set up an independent weather alert system is feasible, but has serious legal implications, says a climate expert.

Universiti Malaya’s Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah said that meteo­rological services in the region, such as those in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, track weather systems that move across the boundaries of countries.

“There is an overlap in the data collected, so it is feasible if Penang wants to source for weather alerts from the meteorological services in other countries.

“However, this must be done by well-trained experts. More importantly, they must realise that they will assume a legal responsibility if they were to issue their own alerts,” he said.

On Tuesday, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was quoted as saying that the state would conduct a study on how data from meteorological services in the region could be compiled and used for alerts.

Lim, who was addressing the state assembly during his winding-up address, reportedly expressed frustration over what he claimed was a “last-minute” red alert of heavy rain issued by the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MetMalaysia).

Elaborating on the legal responsibility involved, Prof Azizan gave an example: “Let’s say Penang issues an advisory saying it won’t rain while MetMalaysia says it will rain heavily. It then turns out that rain falls very heavily, causing floods. Who will be responsible?”

As a government agency under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, MetMalaysia is the authorised body to issue alerts and is answerable to Parliament, said Prof Azizan.

He said other agencies involved with weather emergencies, including the National Security Council and the National Disaster Manage­ment Agency, also operated under rules and regulations.

“When an agency forecasts that the water levels at a river will soon rise above danger levels, there is legal basis to instruct residents to move to safety.

“The legal basis that a Penang government alert would have is something that has to be studied,” said Prof Azizan.

He said it was understandable if the Penang government was unhappy over the state of affairs, but any move by Penang to collect its own weather data should complement MetMalaysia’s efforts.

“My suggestion is to have their own team to cooperate with MetMalaysia and all other agencies involved.”

Dr Fredolin Tangang, a professor of Climatology and Physical Oceanography at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said weather forecasting was not a simple matter and should be left to trained professionals.

“We already have MetMalaysia, and if people don’t understand the process of forecasting, perhaps a working visit to MetMalaysia will be helpful to understand what’s being done and what are the constraints involved.

“Just assigning blame is not the way to go,” he said.

A MetMalaysia official declined to comment when contacted.

The department had earlier denied allegations that it was late in issuing a warning on the bad weather in Penang.

Its director-general Alui Bahari said a warning was issued as early as Nov 1 – three days before the floods – and forwarded to the relevant state authorities.

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