More than 10 days has passed since that fateful night in which a tropical cyclone named “Invest 95W” wreaked havoc on the State of Penang in Malaysia. Yet it seems the rumours about the return of the storm and the political accusations have not stopped. Many are still continuously blaming the state authorities for the floods despite the record rainfall that fell on Penang (315mm) which was the highest ever in Penang’s history. Worse, many politicians on the other side of the political divide as well as their friendly partners are taking advantage of the disaster to score political points, hoping to bluff their ways into Penangites putting all their blame on the state government.
It is fine to criticise any democratically elected government, after all if we all strive to make Malaysia a healthy democracy, we must always ensure that elected governments are not above criticisms. Criticisms must always be present in order to ensure our governments are accountable to their electorate but one thing I do try to emphasise is that criticisms must be based on scientific fact and not merely on emotional perceptions. Using emotional perceptions to criticise is no longer healthy in a democracy but borders on Trump-like political maneuvering. Some criticisms attempt to shift the attention of the tragedy away from the natural disaster and claim that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is merely saying it without any substantial evidence (https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/402073) even going as far as saying the CM’s claims were ludicrous and deeply asinine.
If indeed what the Chief Minister had said was ludicrous and deeply asinine, then I guess the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was lying as the scientific data and even the graphic of the storm’s path was taken from them. Do not ask me why the Americans seem to understand our own local storms better than our own Malaysian Meteorological Department that completely failed to warn us that a full blown tropical cyclone was on its way to Penang. The fact that the storm did a “U-turn” over Penang as seen in the graphic by the JTWC and got more powerful as tropical cyclones are fueled by warm seas should be enough to convince a person that this was no ordinary storm.
Do the BN politicians and like-minded commentators who are so quick to blame the state government through emotional perceptions even know what a tropical cyclone is? Tropical cyclones are storms that are formed in the warm seas in the tropical parts of the world. Water vapour is their fuel and they begin their destructive lives as a tropical disturbance, as their winds get stronger while being fueled by the warm seas, they strengthen into a tropical depression before strengthening further into a tropical storm. Once they become a tropical storm, they are given a human name and are extremely destructive and deadly. The final form of a tropical cyclone are called typhoons or hurricanes depending on which part of the world they occur. They are called typhoons or hurricanes when they reach the wind speeds of 118 KM/h and an “eye” forms in the centre of the storm. Whatever I have just mentioned is not emotional perception but scientific fact.
The storm that hit Penang was a tropical disturbance which is the first stage of tropical cyclones but a tropical cyclone nonetheless. Some may claim that typhoons do not occur in Malaysia but in 2001, Typhoon Vamei rampaged across the State of Johor resulting in floodings and landslides that killed 5 Malaysians. Even though Typhoon Vamei was an even more powerful storm, the system moved across Johor and Sumatra quickly and dissipated in the Indian Ocean. 95W stayed almost stationary over Penang due to the sudden available fuel of the warm seas around Penang Island and did not merely pass over the state. Instead the odd storm made an extremely slow turnaround and headed back into Peninsula Malaysia resulting in floods in the neighbouring states before weakening due to the lack of water vapour inland. 95W then dissipated over the Gulf of Thailand but the residue was absorbed into another storm that was even more powerful called 29W which was a full fledged tropical depression, The storm travelled across Central Thailand and Southern Myanmar before dissipating in the Indian Ocean.
The storm that hit Penang on the night of the fourth of November, 2017 had resulted in landslides occuring in many places that had no development at all, Rather the amount of water that came down upon Penang was just too much for our beloved state to withstand. Trees were felled by the powerful winds blocking traffic and destroying homes together with the 315mm rainfall that resulted in floods occuring in many places for the first time ever should be enough evidence to convince everyone that what happened that night was a full blown natural disaster that needed help not finger pointings. Facts are facts, do not spin facts for political mileage.
Yes Malaysia as a whole is ill-equipped to face tropical cyclones as we have been relatively safe from natural disasters for a very long time. Our infrastructural guidelines need updating and we need to work on this as a country. The commentators who were quick to blame development as the cause of the floods in Penang despite Penang having an even more stricter development guideline than what the federal government permits seem to ignore that flood mitigation funds that have been promised to Penang by the federal government have yet to be completely fulfilled. However, their venom seems to be concentrated on the Penang State Government coincidentally when the 14th General Elections are approaching.
Even countries like the United States and the Philippines who often face full blown hurricanes and typhoons are still struggling to manage their destructive power. In times of tragedy, it is important that we put politics aside and come to the aid of those who were affected by it. I myself have been on the ground since the disaster occurred and having very little sleep but the welfare of those who are in need of help must be taken care of. It can be very demoralising for those who are working tirelessly on the ground when the whole situation is politicised by opportunists who were hardly around except to do press conferences to score political mileage. Penangites however, have stepped up to show that they can climb back up from this disaster, Together with friends throughout Malaysia who generously contributed money, aid, machinery and manpower, we have shown that the spirit of brotherhood is alive and well during times of need. These are the true heroes who took on the power of the tropical cyclone head on.
So yes, criticisms are always welcomed, but be factual and do not practice double standards. Scientific facts are out there for all who are interested to invest their time to learn. Understand the situation then criticise shortcomings. To merely place blame on governments based on emotional perceptions in order to influence the electorate during times of disaster is not criticism but politics. Keep politics out of natural disasters!
Chris Lee Chun Kit is a City Councillor at the City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) representing the DAP