By Haresh Deol
IT is the time of the year where we see contrasting tales.
In most parts of the country, families are all geared up for their much-awaited year-end vacations as they take advantage of the school holidays. There are also those who are busy wrapping gifts ahead of Christmas while others are already counting the days to a brand new year.
But it’s a different story in the east coast – in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.
As this column is being written, water continues to rise, forcing close to 5,000 locals (as of 10pm on November 28) out of their homes to be placed in temporary shelters.
This has been the way for those living in the east coast. It’s an annual affair, one they have become accustomed to.
Despite the devastation, it was only recently that one district showed the country how to brace for floods effectively.
Kemaman, a district dubbed as the southern gateway to Terengganu, initiated the Model Kemaman Siapsiaga following the massive floods in 2013.
The model, spearheaded by Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, saw a comprehensive standard operating procedure (SOP) in dealing with floods. Stakeholders and various government agencies held meetings months before the monsoon season and mock runs were conducted along the way.
The effectiveness of the plan was acknowledged by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2015. Last year the system won a prize at the world summit on the information society forum in Geneva.
Shabery, who was in Kemaman on Tuesday to oversee the preparations in anticipation of floods, credited locals for their efforts and for taking up insurance policies to protect themselves.
With an annual payment of RM74.50, some 3,400 locals have signed up for the Allianz Kampungku insurance scheme which allows them to claim RM1,000 for emergency relief following floods or storms.
Locals need only pay RM50 while the balance is subsided by Shabery. He also asks those living in flood-prone areas elsewhere to also take up the scheme.
“But this is not just about Ahmad Shabery,” said an insider close to the Kemaman MP who is also the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister.
“It is about how the people in Kemaman get together and ensure the plan is executed well to minimise loss of lives.”
Recruitment drives, which see the participation of locals, are held regularly to ensure there are enough volunteers. These locals will then liaise closely with government bodies and agencies whose personnel will be deployed the minute the water level starts rising in the district.
The locals also update the Facebook page @kemamansiapsiaga by posting info-graphics related to floods and alerts by the authorities.
Expectant mothers and the sickly are identified and quickly moved out of flood-prone areas.
The temporary shelters are comfortable, especially for children. Colouring and activity books are handed out as the young ones are kept occupied with activities.
“This is to ensure everyone remains calm and does not feel agitated. We strive to make the shelters as comfortable as possible.… sometimes it gets so comfortable that the children don’t want to leave,” said a committee member, who has been involved in the programme for the past two years, in jest.
He declined to be named as he felt it was unfair for him to be in the spotlight when “the real heroes are the people of Kemaman who readily help each other in such testing times.”
So why aren’t other districts or states adopting this well-thought formula?
Many other areas in the country are prone to floods. Even residents and business owners in cities like Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown can benefit from a similar model.
If only those in charge of these areas realised that investing in a proper flood management system would go a long way.
“Ahmad Shabery may have come up with this but he couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of the people.
“The same can be done in other states. Forget about the politics … forget about the fact that an Umno man or a Barisan Nasional man is behind this formula,” the committee member said.
“It’s just one human being helping another and that’s how it should be.”
Multi-award winning journalist Haresh Deol spent close to two decades in the newsroom. He last served as executive editor of Malay Mail. He is now a media and communications strategist. Haresh can be reached on Twitter (@HareshDeol) or via email: [email protected].