Friday, October 31, 2008

Penang Flood Mitigation Plan: Separating Delusion from Reality

Flash floods have become a frequent occurrence in Penang whenever it rains. In terms of flood management, Penang's predominant official strategy is based on the expansion and deepening of major rivers, the building of water pump stations and more retention ponds in critical areas and the upgrading of drainage systems.

On Oct 22, the Star reported that the Penang state government has asked the prime Minister to consider allocating RM970mil in funding to ensure flood mitigation projects in Penang can be executed.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said RM670mil from the allocation would be used for seven flood mitigation projects in the state.

The projects are the Phase Two Sungai Junjung flood mitigation project (RM125mil), Phase Two Sungai Pinang project (RM125mil); Sungai Juru, Bukit Mertajam catchment area, Permatang Rawa, Sungai Ara and Sungai Rambai project (RM300mil); Bayan Baru Cyber City project (RM30mil); Bukit Panchor, Byram, Transkrian and Jawi project (RM30mil); Bukit Tambun/Tanjung Ketupat project (RM20mil) and Valdor project (RM20mil).

Lim said the projects would involve the upgrading, widening and deepening of the rivers; the building of bunds and retention ponds to prevent the rivers from overflowing; the building of pump houses to channel flood water out of flooded areas; and the construction and upgrading of drainage systems where drains were directly connected to rivers or the sea.

RM300mil out of the RM970mil would also be used to build 50 water pumps, five retention ponds and bunds to treat water outside the seven flood mitigation project areas.

Lim also urged the federal government to speed up the execution of RM327million allocation , aims to complete four major flood mitigation projects by 2011 in Bertam (RM110 million), Sungai Prai (RM158.2 million), and the first phases of Sungai Junjong (RM10 million) and Sungai Pinang (RM7 million).

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng seem to be upbeat about the chances of success if the federal government is willing to allocate the fund.

When flash flood occurred on Sept 6, the State Drainage and Irrigation Department Director, Hanapi Mohd Noor said the flooding was not due to weaknesses in the state's flood mitigation plan but was more due to the clash of high tide and torrential downpours. He said the state received 180ml of rainfall within 24 hours and "the unusual heavy rains within that 24 hours clashed with the high tide at about 2am."

According to Hanapi Mohd Noor, the phenomenon has caused several areas in Penang to be inundated.

The previous state-government has spent hundreds of million on flood mitigation project especially the Sungai Pinang Flood Mitigation project. After the completion of the project, the residents really enjoyed couple of years of flood-free life, but their nightmare return after heavy downpours on the month of September.

Through our past foolish practices, we have built more and more impervious surfaces, such as pavements, rooftops, sidewalks, roads, parking lots and compacted soil, in the name of development, without realizing we have initiated a chain of events that caused the formation of storm water runoff or surface runoff. Storm water that does not soak into the ground becomes surface runoff, which either flows into surface waterways or is channeled into the drainage system. When the volume and the flow rate of cumulative storm water runoff reach a critical mass, it will overwhelm the flood carrying capacity of drainages or rivers, flooding will occur.

Ignoring storm water runoff while solving flash flood problem, is like allow uncontrolled growth of private vehicle on the roads while solving traffic jam through the building of more and more roads.

Flood mitigation is like traffic mitigation, you can’t say road is the best hope for alleviating traffic problem, as experiences have told us the expansion of roads will do little to alleviate traffic problem if we allow uncontrolled growth of private vehicles on the roads. No only that the amount it was going to cost for building more and more roads will be alarming.

What Lim Guan Eng tries to do is like asking the tax payers to finance his expansion of waterways and drainage systems without stopping the formation of storm water runoff at a colossal price.

Without addressing the issue of storm water runoff, no flood mitigation plan will work with lasting effect.

Flood mitigation is not merely about solving flooding problem. It is about looking for the most effective and cost efficient solution. It is about responsible planning and management of the landscape that depends on accurate assessment of the changes in runoff brought on by land development. In most communities in western countries, developers, architects and builders are required to address the situation in terms of providing analytical forecasts of the changes in overland flow, stream discharge and use of correct BMPs (Best Management Practices) related to particular projects. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are any procedure, protocol, structural device or site design that prevents or mitigates storm water runoff.

There is an effective, cost efficient, ecologically friendly and sustainable long term solution for addressing flash floods problem. The simple way of solving the problem is by dissipating storm water runoff into the ground. This can be done through storm water drainage wells. Storm water drainage well is a well designed to drain excess rain and ground water from paved streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and roofs into the ground.

But daily human activities result in deposition of pollutants on roads, lawns, roofs, farm fields, etc. When it rains, the surface runoff will pick up all those pollutants before entering the storm water drainage wells. When possible, BMPs that prevent storm water pollution should always be employed before considering those that clean contaminated storm water through various treatment devices. Architects and developers can play a key role in designing a site that produces very little storm water pollution. Source control BMPs prevent pollutants from contaminating storm water runoff or entering water bodies.

In US, there is such a technology term as Low Impact Development (LID). LID is an approach to storm water management that focuses on creating hydrologically functional landscapes that mimic the natural hydrologic regime. To achieve this, it combines hydrologically functional site design with pollution prevention measures to compensate for land development impacts on water quality. Site design techniques are employed that store, infiltrate, evaporate and detain runoff. This approach concentrates on managing storm water on each lot (source control), and emphasizes the use of many smaller integrated storm water controls that are distributed throughout the site, near the source of each impact. LID also incorporates multifunctional design elements that can serve more than one purpose.

The LID design approach has received support from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is being promoted as a method to help meet goals of the Clean Water Act.

Why the flood mitigation approach advocated by Penang state government is inadequate to address the flash flood problem, let us look into each aspect of the proposed solution.

The building of water pump stations and more retention ponds in critical areas required a lot of sizable lands while in urban setup, lands are a big constraints. To acquired lands for retention pond will cost tax payer exorbitant sum which Penang state government can’t ill-afford.

The water pump stations are too often designed as a “black box” with unknown sizing processes, unproven performance and inadequate maintenance after installation. This is particularly true as we can seen from numerous press reports on how water pump stations failed to operate when needed.

The upgrading, widening and deepening of the rivers is a costly solution that comes with limited life span. Long term effect of cumulative sediments resulting from untreated waste water or runoff on the rivers will make this solution obsolete as time pass by. That mean frequent upgrading, widening and deepening of the rivers are needed to ensure that flood mitigation is working.

The upgrading of drainage systems will not be able to solve flash flood problem when the flood carrying capacity is limited by a constrained outlet, especially during the clash of high tide and torrential downpours.

If the approach is not workable why do we need to spend billion of ringgit? Lim Guan Eng is being irresponsible for pursuing an ineffective solution inherited from the previous Gerakan state government without conducting a thorough analysis or study why Gerakan state government failed to solve our flash flood woes.

What make Guan Eng think that with him in charge, the flood mitigation plan will work? Corruption free? According to Guan Eng, the principles of competency, accountability and transparency (CAT) are the key to reinventing the Penang state government, I do agree with that. But is he a competent leader, which we can look upon for solving our flash flood woes?

Without prior public consultation, Guan Eng just jumps on the flood mitigation plan, prepared by the bureaucrats of the previous state government, when Penang was hit by flash floods in the past few months.

What is wrong with the administration of Lim Guan Eng? Lim Guan Eng, like majority of politicians in this BolehLand, does not understand what is public participation and consultation. A few dialogs with NGOs without follow up actions do not constitute an effective public participation and consultation. Moreover, there is relatively little or no information on the representativeness of the persons who attended these dialogs. This is nothing but lip service from the Penang state government and a demonstrated lack of respect for citizens, and a complete insult.

Involving interest group in public decision making, drafting of plans, proposals, policies and legislations is a crucial part of public participation and consultation. There is a wide variety of effective techniques which could be used for consultation but apparently were not employed by the state government. These include public hearings, citizen advisory groups, focus groups, community opinion surveys, expert panels, etc.

According to the definition of Wikipedia, public consultation, or simply consultation, is a regulatory process by which the public's input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies. It usually involves notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on), consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation).

It is a recognized fact that citizen input is a vital part of the planning process. Through public consultation, politicians can avoid the pitfall of making unfavorable or wrong decision. Politicians should realize that they are ill-equipped with the relevant knowledge in major decision making. They should learn to empower the people in decision making process through proper public consultation mechanism. Blaming Badawi for failing to allocate funds for the flood mitigation project is the ultimate aims of Lim Guan Eng. This demonstrated the lack of competency and confidence of Lim Guan Eng. Even without the allocated funds from the federal government, the state government still can solve the flash flood problem if the government really knows how. But how can those politicians know when they are not the subject matter expert? The decision of Lim Guan Eng to purposely defeat public participation and consultation may eventuate to the ultimate demise of Pakatan Rakyat state government in Penang.

For a government that advocates competency, accountability and transparency, Lim Guan Eng has failed to deliver his promises. I would like to give Guan Eng the benefit of doubt, unfortunately I don’t think we need to wait for 5 years to make this conclusion.

If Guan Eng is sincere, the very first thing he should do is to ensure a proper public consultation mechanism is in place.

Investing on an obsolete model that is not effective and cost efficient is tantamount to wasting public monies. Politicians should realize while indulging in public relation blitz, they should restrain from wasting public monies in securing cheap publicity.


  1. you have the foresight . 2013 April 6 , Penang floods.

  2. How about constructing huge underground car parks to alleviate the destruction
    caused by excessive surface runoff?