Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Malaysia’s worst floods in a decade claimed 54 lives, leaving more than 70,000 people homeless in seven states across the Southeast Asian country after torrential rains, exacerbated by climate change, in December and early January.

The western states, including the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the rich state of Selangor, were hit the hardest after a month of rain fell in a single day, but about seven states across the country were affected.

Faced with what appeared to be a sluggish official response, Malaysians rushed to help each other.

On Twitter, hashtags like #DaruratBanjir (Flood Distress) and #KerajaanPembunuh (Murderous Government) have started to hit the trend.

Flood Amin Mohamad told Al Jazeera there was no sign of the government agencies that were supposed to help, and his family was rescued by a group of volunteers in kayaks.

“There were no warnings, we did not have time to pack anything. We just went to high ground and waited for help but no one came, “said the resident of Shah Alam, Selangor’s capital. “Fortunately, several kayakers arrived in the early hours of the morning.”

A family stands on the balcony on the first floor of their three-story house and watches the floodwaters that flooded the street and flooded their home.A family in Taman Sri Muda watching the floodwaters from the balcony. Volunteers rushed to help as the government was accused of being slow to act [Fazry Ismail/EPA]

The floods were the worst since December 2014 when at least 21 people were killed, and when Prime Minister Najib Razak was criticized for taking too long to return from a golf vacation in Hawaii and deal with the disaster.

This time it was Ismail Sabri, the country’s third prime minister since 2018, who came under fire about his Perikatan National government’s slow response. It was 36 hours before authorities deployed search and rescue missions to flood-hit areas and provided those affected with basic supplies such as food.

‘Spontaneous’

In Taman Sri Muda, a heavily afflicted neighborhood of Shah Alam, groups of kayakers organized themselves to lead an operation to rescue families trapped on the roofs of their homes as the nearby river burst its banks and water levels to has risen at least one meter. .

The 22-year-old Adib Harith called a group of 20 people together to help with eight kayaks and small boats after he saw a tweet about a stranded family in dire need of medical help.

“It was a spontaneous event. “I saw someone tweeting that her family was stranded and they were asking for someone to save them as they had someone sick,” he said, adding that his team rescued nearly 200 people in December.

Several gurdwaras or Sikh temples around the capital have also mobilized, with volunteers cooking hot food for families affected by floods and distributing supplies across the country.

Gurdwara Vice President Sahib Petaling Jaya Jasbir Kaur said the temple began emergency relief operations on December 19 with volunteers from all walks of life helping.

“Nothing was planned, it was Malaysians who gathered to gather behind the victims with the aim of feeding and helping anyone affected by the flood,” she told Al Jazeera.

Among the groups of volunteers who went above and beyond were many young Malaysians.

“It was a hair experience. We have the youth who came in thousands, not just the Sikh youth, but all the young people around Klang Valley, ”Jasbir said, referring to the area including Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam, which is home to about 8 million people. .

But while the ruling parties are lacking, the disaster provided an opportunity for the recently registered youth-based political party, Muda, to show its mettle.

Former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq, who is Muda’s president, was on the ground with the party’s volunteers and helped with rescue operations.

He shared his experiences on social media.

“We can not afford to wait for the authorities when people are hungry and waiting for help to arrive. When we went down to the large affected areas, we could hear the sound of people asking for help in total darkness. The victims were stranded on top of their roofs for days waiting for help, “he said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Muda managed to raise $ 520,000 in cash for its flood relief operations, which channel the money to logistics, cleaning supplies and supplies for the affected. The party aims to give 300 of the poorest families about $ 71 each, and to distribute school supplies and replacements for electrical goods such as refrigerators and stoves destroyed by the floodwaters.

‘Bigger than brand’

Muda co-founder Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier says the floods have highlighted the need for the government to improve its disaster response, with the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) and the state government both seen as slow to act in response to the crisis.

Following the criticism, Prime Minister Ismail promised $ 335 million in flood relief and assistance to victims, including $ 2,000 to the next of kin for those who lost their lives.

“To this day, it remains vague about who is leading the coordination of the crisis. “It was unacceptable that NADMA washed their hands of the responsibility to manage the crisis and yet did not face any consequences,” she told Al Jazeera.

Two weeks later, the cleanup continues with damaged furniture and piles of rubbish piled up on the streets in the areas worst affected.

Tired Malaysian soldiers remove debris after floods devastated Hulu Langat area near Kuala Lumpur The army was deployed in some areas as houses were flooded and landslides cut off roads. [Fazry Ismail/EPA]

Analysts say political rivalry may have exacerbated the problem.

NADMA falls under the PN-led federal government, while Selangor is ruled by Pakatan Harapan, a rival coalition.

“Whether you like it or not, disaster management or the government’s response to a natural disaster is political,” Adib Zalkapli, director of BowerGroupAsia, told Al Jazeera. “To score points, politicians must make life normal again for the flood victims, and competition among politicians is intense, especially in Selangor, as the state is a Pakistan stronghold.”

Amid the alleged lack of government action, Muda used social media to obtain funds, volunteers, 4 × 4 vehicles and boats.

“It was bigger and deeper than any political strategy or brand,” said Dr Thanussha, who is also the party’s vice-president. “We were driven by the realization that people would starve for another day if we did not act quickly. “Helping the needy, especially during a crisis, should be everyone’s trademark of politics.”

The floods come as Malaysia prepares for elections, which are expected by May 2023 but are expected to be held as soon as this year.

With 18-year-olds allowed to vote for the first time – a law champion by Syed Saddiq when he was in office – the struggle is on to win the hearts and minds of the country’s young people. The move means an estimated 3.8 million more people will be able to participate in the election (voters were 14.9 million at the last poll in 2018).

Analysts say that while not all young people have the same vision for the country or commitment to democratic reform – they indeed appear to be as divided as the older generations – they grew up in an era of a more vibrant and engaged civil society.

“Youth are still critical to political change, apart from short-term election fluctuations, especially in cultivating new political sensitivities and initiatives to influence not only their peers but also society as a whole,” said Meredith Weiss, an expert on Malaysian politics, wrote in a paper this month for Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“Youth alone can not save or revive a faltering Malaysian democracy. But they are playing key roles for that purpose, so that over time Malaysia is better positioned for democratized governance, as emerging cohorts expect more than the illiberal status quo. “

@syedsaddiq I’m in the middle of volunteering, we tried to have some fun in between. Volunteering is fun. Be part fun. Be part of MUDA. #myp ♬ original sound – Hi

Muda’s flood response caught the attention of the authorities.

Police said they would investigate volunteers who went to flood relief areas without obtaining prior approval, while a smear campaign emerged on social media, with several videos shared of alleged Muda members drinking and partying in an attempt to discredit the party.

Muda has denied the allegations and Syed Saddiq says he hopes the commitment the party made during the floods will be seen as an example of how politics can be different.

The 29-year-old, who represents the small southern town of Muar in parliament, hopes the party can show a new approach to politics in a multi-ethnic country where some political parties base their membership solely on race, and where politicians of all stripes often used race and religion to gain support.

“Muda is moving towards nation building and we are exclusively focused on resolving the national issues. We are here to serve all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, and therefore there are no restrictions on joining the party. “The assurance of power through religion and sentiments will only jeopardize the country’s harmony,” Syed said.

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