February 26, 2007

It wasn't me

When Shaggy sang that number one hit song It Wasn't Me in 2000, many people sniggered and sang along with it too. I suppose there is something funny about being naughty and getting away with it. While one can get away light-heartedly with farting in the lift, getting away with a given responsibility or simply not taking it seriously sometimes comes at a heavy cost to others, even with their lives.

Blame has to be given to someone, or something else, when one refuses to take responsibility. Nature, it seems, is an easy target of late.

Flash floods that occurred in flood-prone areas of Singapore and Johor following heavy rain is one such example. While floods receded in a matter of hours in Singapore, Johor stayed flooded for three weeks resulting in economic losses of RM2.4 billion including clean-up and reconstruction. More than 104,000 people had to be evacuated and at least 17 people died. Now, we know all that from the barrage of news on the flood, but we should also know what should or could have been done to prevent this disaster.

Heavy rainfall alone cannot be solely blamed for the recent tragedy. One wonders why river systems, with years of sediments and siltation, has not been dredged or widened? Rivers that are narrower and shallower over time results in a slower discharge of water during heavy rainfall, making flooding even more severe.

Uncontrolled development and the destruction of water catchment areas have all contributed to this disaster. While we cannot stop the rain from falling, we can and should plan ahead to mitigate the flooding. Even our prime minister has commented in the news regarding observations on the weaknesses in the drainage system of Johor. A study will be done on why the flooding occurred as it has, but it should be known to all as well, if anyone or parties are to be held accountable for the poorly planned development in Johor, and elsewhere.

Thirteen years ago, heavy rainfall was also initially blamed for the landslide and collapse of the Highland Towers that claimed 48 lives. However, we now know that poor planning and human error were factors leading up to the tragedy. While a few parties were held liable in a federal court ruling last year, the local councils cannot be held liable for losses should a building collapse. Local authorities such as the MPAJ were given full immunity under Section 95 (2) of the Street,
Drainage & Building Act 1974 (Act 133). One is left wondering how safe we are in our own homes, when there is no accountability in this approval process.

Finally, for potential victims of this screwed-up process, I hope we do something about it before the next tragedy occurs. Perhaps start with finding out how we can make the relevant authorities more accountable for their actions or inactions. To deny one's responsibility as a citizen when one is in a position to act, may just be no different than that of irresponsible authorities. After all, no one lives in a vacuum and it will be our collective effort and public opinion that will ultimately shape the direction of our own country.

Published in The Sun, Mon, 22 Jan 2007

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