Spotlight – Malaysia: January 6, 2022

by | Jan 6, 2022 | Blog, Opinion Pieces

Photo: MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images (CSIS)


Since mid-December 2021, Malaysians across eight states have been victims of flooding caused by a very intense monsoon rain. The situation is ongoing with more rain and high tide expected on the east coast of the country.

While many have identified climate change as a critical factor, and this is a good moment to raise awareness about it, the main reason for the disaster other than mother nature is poor governance. The controversial management of the situation, which has left more than 70,000 people without a home and took the lives of at least 48 individuals, has highlighted the country’s unpreparedness for natural disasters and the major gap that exists in the relationship between state and federal agencies. Politicians have thrown blame at each other; federal agencies and the government have criticized state agencies, particularly in Selangor, the first state to be impacted by the floods and one that is also currently ruled by the opposition. The opposition meanwhile has demanded an immediate investigation into the mismanagement of the crisis by the federal government.

The government in late December established a task force after the first wave of floods to help rescue victims, provide aid, and prepare in anticipation for a second wave of floods; a second wave that the country is facing now. This decision confirmed the incapacities of existing agencies, such as the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), to act promptly and coordinate their efforts. Stories of people waiting for 24 hours on their roofs before being rescued by regular citizens have highlighted the inadequacy of immediate rescue efforts. The show of inappropriate response from the government was ironically compensated by an overflow of politicians portrayed in a messianic role saving victims of the flooding. The mismatch of responses and the charity theater conducted by politicians have prompted anger among Malaysians who question the capacities of the country’s successive governments to handle the many crises they have faced since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, the absence of proper urban planning, the management of waste and pollution clogging rivers and drains, the mismanagement of natural resources, and the destruction of a natural environment that could retain water overflow are not new phenomena. Yet again, Malaysians are faced with the consequences of the stagnation of successive governments and the lack of political will to reform the country’s institutions for better governance.

Sophie Lemière is an Adjunct Fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.​

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