14 February 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Wednesday January 31, 2007

Take a leaf from Katrina


The floods in Johor are nowhere near as devastating as Hurricane Katrina, which stormed along the Gulf Coast of the United States. But many of the same issues crop up.

IN 2005, Hurricane Katrina stormed along the Gulf Coast of the United States devastating many cities in Mississippi and Louisiana, most notably New Orleans. It was the costliest hurricane in US history with damage estimated at US$81.2bil; and also one of the deadliest, leaving about 1,836 people dead.

Nothing to salvage: This family in Kota Tinggi lost everything to the floods. Some flood victims, already poor before, are suffering from depression and despair, unable to fathom how to recover from this crushing misfortune.
More than a year afterwards, New Orleans is still trying to recover from Katrina’s physical, social and economic impact.

What is amazing about Katrina is that it is possible to read so much information on what happened during those terrible days of the hurricane, and the reasons; the response of the authorities both at the local and Federal government; and the impact of Katrina in economic and environmental terms and, also, on its people.

For example, New Orleans’ population was re-distributed across several cities across the Gulf Coast and even as far as Chicago, which means that, as with migrant populations anywhere, new social issues including crime cropped up in those cities.

By January 2006, about 200,000 people had returned to living in New Orleans, less than half its pre-storm population. This again changed the social fabric and dynamics of the city, as most of them were unemployed and therefore unable to pay local taxes.

The floods in Johor are nowhere near as devastating as Hurricane Katrina. But many of the same issues crop up.

In New Orleans, the preparedness of both the local and Federal governments in times of emergency were criticised, leading up to an investigation by Congress.

In Johor, some of the same questions could be asked. Like New Orleans, there were people stranded with no food or water, and some with no means to seek help. Unsurprisingly, these tended to be the poorest and most marginalised.

We have already read about stranded orang asli and other remote communities, but the difficulties in access left, for instance, the case of a policeman and some children stranded on the roof of a house for three days in the driving rain.

I am so amazed at the level of investigation that was done on why Katrina was so devastating. It is well-known that much of the damage and fatalities were attributed not so much to the hurricane itself but to the breaking of the levees holding back flood waters due to “system design flaws, combined with the lack of adequate maintenance,” as well as the delayed response by government authorities which led to New Orleans citizens dying from thirst, exhaustion and violence.

Much of the criticism focused on “mismanagement and lack of leadership” before, during and after the hurricane, and some officials were forced to resign, even those praised by the President himself.

Johor has been through two floods in the past month, an unusual event that apparently occurs “once in a hundred years.” As comforting as it is to know that it is a rare occurrence, it is still irrelevant when people are still unable to return to a normal life, or even, as in places like Batu Pahat, to their own, still submerged, homes.

The clouds are grey over Johor and more rain is expected, a fact that makes even non-Johoreans feel depressed, what more those who call the state home.

I visited one village near Johor Baru recently and just to look at the watermarks left by the flood, way above the average height of the residents there, was shocking. The homes had been cleaned up, although “clean” is a relative term there, but getting your shoes covered in mud has become a fact of life that one has to accept.

Interestingly enough, the kampung – Kampung Kangkar Tebrau – is a microcosm of Malaysia, home to Malay, Chinese and Indian families, united by poverty, exacerbated even more by the flood. Mother Nature does not discriminate according to race, unlike human beings.

There are many stories emerging from the floods of the far-reaching effects of this disaster. Students are unable to return to university because, even if they could leave home, they have lost books, computers and assignments they had done over the holidays.

Some people, already poor before, are suffering from depression and despair, unable to fathom how to recover from this crushing misfortune. Seeing other people come and help has made some of them feel they are remembered and cared about, but the help must be sustainable and long term. It will likely take more than a year for everyone to recover what they have lost.

I hope that once this is over, we will be able to read honest and truthful reports about what happened in Johor, and what its likely impact, in all spheres, will be. We should not be made complacent by the theory that it won’t happen again for another century.