Rapid Development, Hillslope Cutting Irrefutably Cause of Penang Flood


Flooding in Penang. 8 November 2016

FYI, New Straits Times misquoted Prof Chan Ngai Weng’s statement regarding the recent flash flood in Penang. Prof Chan posted below texts on his personal FB to clarify his statement:

“I was interviewed yesterday and this piece of news came out today in the NST. It was not a totally correct portrayal of what I said, as the writer only narrowed down to one or two reasons I mentioned as the causes of the recent floods in Penang. He played down on the other points as he chose to hit the Penang State government’s claim that hillslope cutting was not the cause of the floods
My full report to the reporter is as follows:

“It is unwise to dismiss development and hillslope cutting as the cause of flash floods. Changing land use from green areas to urban built up areas reduces permeable surfaces. Cutting hillslopes weakens and exposes soils to erosion which sweeps sediments into rivers, hence reducing river carrying capacities for drainage. These two are certainly part of the reasons for flooding in Pg recently.
Such severe flooding has occurred frequently in Penang since I came to Pg in 1985. Such flooding has not been addressed by the authorities because Development was always faster and given more priority than prevention and conservation, both by the previous and current state governments!

Hillslope development has certainly been one of the many reasons that exposed the land to rain splash erosion which washed sediments into rivers causing rivers to become shallow and to be reduced in drainage capacities.

River encroachment is another reason. Dev is very close to rivers leaving rivers no room to manouvere. Floodplains are also overly densely developed whereby housing areas lack green space and permeable surfaces leaving very high rates of surface runoff which should be absorbed into the ground in forested areas. Urban drainage is not well planned. Much still relies on open monsoon drains even though DID has a new env friendly urban drainage model called MSMA. Contractors do not follow MSMA because it is complicated and expensive. Public apathy also means people are still throwing garbage and clogging drains and rivers. Too much emphasis is on structural measures such as river dredging whereas non structural measures such as awareness and education and fines are not enforced. Enforcement is very poor when it cones to river conservation.

Penang needs sustainable urban drainage which is ecological sound. The USM engineering campus is built on such a drainage system. Rainwater is allowed to seep into the ground and flows slowly to the river. This allows the river plenty of time to drain away excess rain water. The rainwater is also filtered, giving stormwater better water quality.

Of course global climate change has also increased rainfalls but we cannot solely blame rainfall because the forested areas did not get flooded in Pg recently. Only the urban areas. E.g Pg botanic gardens is quite low and flat but there was no flooding.

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About the author

dr-chan-ngai-wengDr. Chan Ngai Weng is Professor of Environmental Management, in the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Known as ‘Malaysia’s Waterman’, he has a Master’s Degree in “Climatology & Meteorology” from University Malaya and a Doctorate in “Environmental Hazards Management” from Middlesex University, United Kingdom. He teaches courses in Water Resources, Hydrology and Flood Hazard Management and Climatology.  Actively involved in various organisations, Prof. Chan Ngai Weng is the President of “Water Watch” Penang; the Chairman of the “Malaysian Nature Society”, Penang branch; and held the position of Coordinator of “Water Watch Asia” from 2001-2006.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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