Exceptionally heavy and prolonged monsoon rain, exacerbated by recent deforestation, created a Tsunami effect on the Sungei Galas, Sungei Lebir and Kelantan rivers. At the height of the floods, over 200,000 inhabitants had to be relocated and many other communities were cut off from food and medical supplies. As flooding is normal in this region, the Malaysian government did not declare an official state of emergency but the scale of the disaster was underestimated and a large number of local and national groups and individual volunteers rallied to support the government relief work.
The Disaster Aid International (DAI) deployment took place on 12 January and lasted for 2 weeks. Disaster Aid Malaysia (DAM) members were joined by two experienced members of DAI’s pool of Deployment Aid Response Team volunteers – (Dave Tsewski from Australia and Tore Knos from America. DAI was well placed to support this disaster given that its newest country member, DAM, was both on the ground and had relevant recent experience of disaster relief in 2013 following similar, although less extreme flooding, in the same region. At that time, DAM worked in partnership with the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) and the partnership was resumed for this deployment.
Given that the disaster had not been declared as an official emergency the renewed partnership was particularly important on this occasion. Also, as no official emergency had been declared there was little input from international relief organisations, and this meant that the UN was not invited to set up the infrastructure normally provided by its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to ensure that specialist aid organisations were coordinated to provide the critical needs (i.e. food, water, shelter, medical support). While the UN maintained a coordinating role through MRCS, it meant that all those involved had to be more proactive in working in partnership with complementary aid groups.
Accordingly, DAI also partnered with the Nanyang Press Foundation who sponsored 50 Family Survival Kits which were on site on the 5th day of deployment. The deployment of the equipment was supported by 50 volunteers from the Nanyang Press Foundation “16 Navigators” club.
In order to meet the medical needs, DAM worked with the Rotary Club of Kota Bharu and with volunteer doctors. including one from the Rotary Club of Tanjung Bungah (Penang), to set up a Medical Camp which also provided a base for four doctors and paramedics provided by MRCS. This complimentary camp was part of Rotary Club of Kota Bharu’s project to distribute cooking stoves to 540 families.
The partnership with MRCS focussed largely on the provision of clean water to communities which had been indentified by the UN as one of the main priorities. This was particularly urgent as earlier efforts by MRCS to provide clean water had been delayed by equipment failure. Fortunately, following the joint deployment in the previous year, DAM/MRCS already had Skyhydrants in local stocks which meant that two Skyhydrants could be installed in Temangan and in Kampung Pasir Sena within two days of the deployment.
Dave and Tore were kept fully occupied during the two weeks. When not directly involved in deploying aid, they undertook assessment visits on behalf of the other partners to support their future work, gave talks to raise awareness to a number of Rotary clubs and also to staff and students at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak and gave a number of interviews to a range of national newspapers which included a video produced by the Star, one of Malaysia’s main English language national newspapers.
As those on the ground always say, every deployment is different and it is important to be flexible in delivery the right kind of support for that situation irrespective of what has been done before. In this case, the deployment was much more varied in terms of the number of people and organisations involved and the way in which equipment was deployed. Our newest member, DAM, must have felt that it was going through a “baptism of fire” but it is evidently the case that DAI would not have been nearly as effective without DAM’s local knowledge, contacts and experience.