18/03/2024 09:57 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Dr Praveena Nair Sivasankaran

The flash floods that continue to strike various parts of Peninsular Malaysia are not just a natural calamity; they are a stark reminder of a persistent problem that affects us all. Beyond the headlines, these floods bring significant risks, economic costs and widespread frustration. Let’s dive deeper into this issue, explore why it persists and discuss what’s needed to make a change.

Recent articles in the media highlight the gravity of flash floods in Malaysia. They disrupt daily life, damage property, and put public safety at risk. The economic costs are substantial, but it’s the frustration and anxiety they bring to communities that cut deepest.

Rapid urbanisation plays a significant role. As our cities expand, green spaces disappear, leaving no room for rainwater to go. Climate change exacerbates the issue, leading to more intense rainfall. But it’s not just about nature; it’s also about outdated flood management systems.

The government has made efforts, revamping drainage systems and implementing better flash flood management. However, the problem persists because a holistic approach is needed. Effective flood prevention requires precision planning and participation from all stakeholders.

Plastic pollution

While rainfall intensity and changing weather patterns play a significant role, there’s an often-overlooked factor exacerbating these floods: plastic pollution.

Plastic pollution, stemming from improper disposal and littering, can have a direct and detrimental impact on flash floods. One of the most evident ways is through the blockage of drainage systems. When plastic waste accumulates in urban areas, it can clog drains, preventing them from efficiently channelling excess water away. During heavy rainfall, this blockage becomes a bottleneck, causing water to pool on streets and surfaces, ultimately elevating the risk of flash floods.

Furthermore, plastic waste, including bags and bottles, can infiltrate the soil and urban landscapes, reducing the ground’s permeability. This means that the earth becomes less capable of absorbing rainfall, resulting in increased surface runoff. As a result, even moderate rainfall can quickly lead to flash flooding when plastic waste interferes with the natural absorption of water.

Beyond these immediate effects, plastic pollution also contaminates water bodies such as rivers and streams. This contamination can alter flow patterns and exacerbate flood risks during heavy rainfall events. Additionally, the long-term accumulation of plastic waste in water bodies and drainage systems can permanently modify the landscape’s natural flow patterns, creating conditions conducive to flash floods even in periods of moderate rainfall.

Waste management

At the Clean Technology Impact Lab, we recognise the urgency of these issues and have taken concrete steps, working on awareness programmes about waste management, directly related to flash floods. Our recent initiative, PERMINDA, focuses on waste management, especially proper plastic disposal, which contributes to water pollution.

We also focus on converting waste to energy, the circular economy model, and measurable outcomes, aiming to target and empower our communities for a cleaner environment and planet.

Extensive education and awareness programmes and research to address drainage systems are also in the pipeline, and our hope is that these initiatives will shape a future generation that is more aware and proactive in planning urban landscapes. It is expected that the ideas will attract the attention of fund providers and governance, leading to broader adoption.

Collaboration is crucial in tackling this issue. Together, we can move towards a Malaysia where flash floods are no longer a recurring nightmare but a distant memory. It’s time to turn frustration into action and build a flood-resilient nation.


Dr Praveena Nair is the Deputy Director of the Clean Technology Impact Lab at Taylor’s University, which develops innovative and sustainable technological solutions for water and energy challenges. Altogether, Taylor’s has introduced 11 Impact Labs to implement purpose learning across the university in its education, research and advocacy, guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)