Like all Malaysians, much of my attention during the past week has centered on the news and scenes of the flood devastation that has occurred in the country, especially in Kelantan.
While I also share the concern of many others as to whether our political leaders and authorities have been on top of their game or have bungled in their disorganized efforts at providing relief, the main focus of my scrutiny has been on whether any practical mitigation measure can be undertaken to minimize the impact of this almost annual climatic phenomenon which has caused so much suffering and socio-economic loss.
In looking for an answer, I believe I am better qualified than most people in the country in view of my long experience as an engineer who has been involved in various major water-related projects such as the Muda Irrigation scheme since the 1960’s.
Of special relevance is that about 30 years ago, my company undertook the contract to fill up the Kelantan Medical University site which is a few kilometers upstream of Kota Buru/Sungei Kelantan. From my working experience in dredging the sand from the river, I noted that the few hundred thousand cubic meters we dredged from the river was soon refilled by the constant new inflow of sand.
From this, It is clear to me that one of the major causes of the annual flooding is the accumulation of sand at the mouth of Sungei Kelantan which is more than 10 kilio meter from Kota Baru and that an enormous quantity of sand amounting to perhaps several hundred millions of cubic meters, must be taken out to mitigate flooding.
But how can this be done in a cost effective way?
The answer lies in another project which my company, obtained at the same time to dredge sand from Sungei Tiram in Johor for export to Singapore. The sand from the river was used to create the beach at Sentosa Resort in Singapore. In the process we not only cleared that particular Malaysian river and solved its flooding problem but we also generated jobs and income from the revenue received from Singapore. This was a win-win situation for our two nations.
Although I was one of the founders of Mudajaya and IJM Corporation, I am now no longer associated with these companies nor have I any business interest in the construction industry. However I will support dredging of the sand resources of Sungei Kelantan, subject to various environmental safeguards, to alleviate the flooding.
Shortly after return to Malaysia from his overseas trip, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced an allocation of Rm 500 million to help the flood victims cope with the disaster. Kota Baru floods every year and very often the Government allocates hundreds of millions of ringgit to help the flood victims. All this money is not solving the flooding problem. We must find a way to mitigate the flooding.
Various cynics have suggested that the Prime Minister may be playing politics with the funding allocation meant for use in Kelantan. It is said that he may be tempted to gain political capital from it in the hope of using the fund to sway voters towards BN. Although this political angle to flood relief funding cannot be discounted, I do not believe that the Prime Minister will choose to play such crude politics. Perhaps his subordinates may want to do so. But I think that on this particular crisis, he will know that the eyes of the nation are on him and that he will need to come up with the best program possible that can not only bring short term relief but also long term positive impact.
A Win-Win Situation for Malaysia and Singapore
Hence my proposal to the Prime Minister is a simple one which can meet both short and long term goals. If we sell the sand taken out from Sungei Kelantan to Singapore at say Rm 10 per cubic meter, we would gain several billion of ringgit to make up for the growing shortfall in government coffers arising from low oil prices. At the same time, if properly planned, the dredging will eliminate the flooding problem of the Kota Baru and Kelantan population.
The public and I are aware that for various political reasons, selling sand to Singapore was disallowed by the Mahathir Government. It is time to review this policy. The mitigation measure I have proposed is an easy, practical and common sense solution to Kelantan’s annual flooding. It also provides Singapore with access to cheaper sand (presently Singapore is importing from as far as Cambodia!) and will have the effect of improving Malaysia-Singapore relations.
UMNO hardliners will not agree with what I am proposing but can the Prime Minister’s Department please also ask the people of Kota Baru and Kelantan what they want.