3 Dead After More Floods in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

The Cameron Highlands in Malaysia has once again experienced deadly flooding, just over a year after 4 people died in floods in the same region.

Yesterday 3 people died and 5 were injured after flash floods and mud slides swept through the area after a period of heavy rainfall. The fatalities include a young student, aged 13, and two agricultural workers.

Emergency rescue teams work at the site of a mudslide in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia
Emergency rescue teams work at the site of a mudslide in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia

In October 2013, 4 people died in floods in the area after water was released from a nearby dam. The recent heavy rainfall meant that water also had to be released from the dam yesterday, 05 November 2014. This time around things ran more smoothly, according to local reports. Residents were evacuated and it is not thought that the water release was the cause of any of the fatalities.

The district police chief told Bernama “The management of the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam had announced to the police about releasing water via Sungai Bertam when the water level reached 35.9 feet (11 metres) due to heavy rain. To avoid any untoward incident, the residents were evacuated to the community hall in Ringlet and the operation was completed at 8pm. At the moment, the situation is under control and the weather is fine,”

The floods have damaged at least 20 houses in Kampung Baru and Bertam Valley, and forced around 150 people to evacuate their homes in Tanah Rata, the main town in the highlands.

River of mud - flash floods in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, November 2014. Photo: Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia
River of mud – flash floods in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, November 2014. Photo: Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia

Deforestation

The area is especially vulnerable to flash floods and landslides, mostly as a result of deforestation and soil erosion.

After the 2013 disaster, Ed Hill wrote for FloodList:

The release of water was implemented according to standard operating procedure, so why did it cause such calamity?

In reality there are a number of contributing factors. These include a more rapid rise in water level than usual, owing to deforestation, increasingly intensive agricultural activities and in some cases poorly managed agricultural practices in the dam’s catchment area. This is coupled with poor land use practices and the encroachment of urban development into the flood plain below the dam.

Sadly it seems there have been further instances of deforestation in the area in recent times, prompting a Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, to visit the area earlier this year. In our report on his attempts to stop illegal deforestation, we said:

Several new illegal land clearing sites have recently been detected this year at the Blue Valley-Kampung Raja border, Kuala Terla, Brinchang and 49 Miles areas. Much of the forest in these areas are all on on Pahang government land. According to local eye witnesses, the illegal foresters even put up “no trespassing” signs while moving in various bits of heavy machinery. Local farmers know when work on a new illegal clearance is taking place as it causes muddy water to flow into their farms whenever it rained. The trees that used to prevent the mud and water flow are now gone.

Example of deforested hillsides in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Kelantan
Example of deforested hillsides in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Kelantan