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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gridlock either way

KUALA LUMPUR’S RM1.9 billion Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) was designed to alleviate the recurrent flooding of the city whenever it rained heavily — but as thousands in the city found out to their bitter disappointment on Tuesday, flash floods are still a major problem.

The downpour created a chain reaction that resulted in a transportation catastrophe:
As water levels climbed to two metres on major roads, basement car parks were flooded, electrical disruptions occurred in several areas, including the LRT station at Kelana Jaya, and even parts of town like Jalan Ipoh that were not previously floodprone were completely submerged.

SMART tunnel managers have disclaimed responsibility for the floods, saying the affected areas were outside the tunnel’s scope of operation, whereas places such as Dataran Merdeka (which is affected by the tunnel’s water diversion), however, remained flood-free on Tuesday.

The halt of south-bound traffic leaving the city, they added, was caused by stalled cars and not because the tunnel was closed.

This may be perfectly true, but city folk have difficulty swallowing such explanations because regardless of what water gets diverted, or whether or not cars stall, they face total gridlock anyway and — worse — stand to lose thousands of ringgit in lost time or repair jobs every time it rains heavily.

The same questions, as always, are on our lips: What is going on? How many times have ratepayers been promised a permanent solution? What is the point of mega-expenditure on mega-projects when the result is the same? Who cares if some parts of the city aren’t flooded when the rest of it is?

According to City Hall, flood retention ponds and river-widening projects are being undertaken in a number of areas and these will, when completed, help prevent future flooding.

We note with concern the speed at which “prevention” always turns into something softer like “alleviation” when these measures are proven not to work:

How many times have we heard them in the past? How many more times must we hear them before the authorities finally wake up to the fact that we aren’t fooled?

We have long ago abandoned any intention of blaming floods on “acts of God”, and although we know perfectly well that adverse meteorological events are beyond our control, what is within our control is how we deal with them.

Those responsible for overseeing that control must therefore be made accountable when their systems fail.

Do we even know what really causes the floods? If rainwater has nowhere to go, should we not construct adequate drainage beneath our roads? And if our stormwater drains are being clogged with rubbish, isn’t the logical solution to keep them constantly clean?

If people are to be blamed for their disgusting and irresponsible habit of indiscriminate littering, shouldn’t they be subjected to massive municipal penalties as a discouragement?

If people like Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, can clean up their cities simply through strict and impartial enforcement, why is it that we have so much trouble just keeping our drains, rivers and other waterways clean enough to hold water?


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