The impact of climate change on urban areas is reflected in the increased number and intensity of extreme weather events such as heavy rainstorms, typhoons, and hurricanes. The increasing intensity of weather related disasters is becoming more noticeable with unquestionable alarm. The National Meteorological Centre of China recently made the observation that droughts, floods, and storms had become more frequent and ruthless since the 1990s with the trend likely to continue. Generally, the increasing frequency of extreme weather is attributed to climate change and global warming. The Annual Red Cross Report 2008 mentioned that over the last decade worldwide, the number of weather related disasters have risen from 200 annually to 350 and was continuing. Its Secretary General, Bekele Geleta warned that extreme weather events would become more frequent and more severe.
In late 2006, Typhoon Utor which caused massive floods in Malaysia also hit Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. Utor's severe rainstorms brought higher than average rainfall with the recorded amount in Singapore on December 20 2006, the third highest recorded rainfall in 75 years. Heavy downpours from the rainstorms in Philippines caused rivers and dams to overflow and weather officials described the 2006-2007 flooding as the most terrible in the area in a century. In the same period floods occurred in North Sumatra and Aceh displacing an estimated 400,000 people and at least 118 people dead with 155 people missing.
In Malaysia, urban areas in the southern state of Johore were flooded and two towns,Kota Tinggi and Segamat were completely cut off for the duration of the floods. Emergency evacuations in Johore caused by the floods affected between 60,000 and 70,000 people. Further onslaught of heavy rainfall brought a second wave of the flood which almost paralysed Johore state after all its eight districts were submerged by the floods. The regular natural disasters in Malaysia, albeit yearly affairs accompanying the seasonal monsoon season are increasingly becoming more intense. Compound this situation with insufficient drainage in many urban areas which predictably exacerbate the effects of torrential rain. Flood mitigation projects which have been incorporated in the Ninth Malaysia Plan indicate that the government is aware of the seriousness on the floods and their impact on to the economy and development. The considerable amount budgeted to these efforts will greatly contribute towards the alleviation of the flood problems.
During the flash floods in Kuala Lumpur, the Sungai Gombak river which traversed the capital, overflowed its banks following a three hour downpour. One wonders whether insurance premium costs for vehicles will soar if demand for inclusion of coverage for loss/damage due to floods go on the rise. This question unsurprisingly crops up with the significant number of cars parked in the hotel basements and the major underground car parks submerged in floodwaters. The consequent massive traffic jams resulting from the flash floods incurred invisible losses on lost man-hours over and above the obvious financial implications of damages and destruction to property.
In Philippines, the recent Typhoon Marakot displaced several thousands in the main island of Luzon. The scenes were of houses, vehicles and farms swept away, with many villagers stranded on rooftops. The Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) declared the affected Botolan coastal town under a "state of calamity". In the southern island of Mindanao more than 375,000 people were affected by massive flooding. (i)
Moving out of the Philippines, Marakot gathered intensity and slammed into Taiwan resulting in the worst flooding in half a century and killed at least 12 people. Thousands found themselves marooned helplessly as bridges were destroyed by raging swollen rivers. Just imagine the sheer size of the destruction to infrastructure and agriculture.
The patterns of unusually heavy rains were detected through data collected by the tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite since June . In the wake of several days of extreme rain in early July 2009, floods swept across southern China and northern Vietnam. The rains caused widespread flooding and landslides that left 75 people dead and 938,000 homeless in China as of July 5. (ii) In China, Typhoon Marakot forced the evacuation of nearly 1 million people in two eastern coastal provinces. Unremitting rainfall triggered many landslides paralysing traffic in many rural areas.(iii)
The flood disaster of 2006-2007 was considered the costliest flood in Malaysian history with a total cost of RM 1.5 billion. In China the annual economic cost of extreme weather has soared to 244 billion Renminbi. The horror of these losses over the last few months have yet to be assessed and the sum total could be humungous. Awareness of the perils of natural disasters should lead to action for disaster preparedness. Nature has given us all the signals and we should have analysed the emerging patterns and prepare ourselves.
(i)IRIN, Manila, 10 August 2009.
(ii) Xinhua News, China. 5 July 2009.
(iii) Xinhua News Agency August 9, 2009