A flurry of recent disasters in Malaysia has prompted increased concern over the impacts of extreme temperatures, strong winds and air pollution. These events have also revealed poor coordination and weak forecasting capacity for the prediction of floods and landslides, which has become increasingly important for major cities faced with the effects of climate change.
The coastal communities of the Iskandar Malaysia (IM) economic region are at risk of flooding due to sea-level rise. Flooding causes the most frequent and significant damage and is responsible for a significant number of casualties, disease epidemics, property and crop damage. Among ASEAN member states, Malaysia’s population was the most exposed to floods between July 2012 and January 2019. Climate-related disasters are also posing huge challenges to public disaster management, which affects vulnerable groups. Ensuring clean water supply and optimal sewage services is particularly difficult during disasters like flooding, which can render food and water-borne diseases a threat. Climate change is also accelerating the rate of natural coastal erosion due to rising sea levels and there is the issue of haze, which has become an almost annual occurrence and is even more severe during the prolonged dry period associated with the El Nino phenomenon.
Malaysia has developed national plans to enhance resilience against climate change, but the approach has been largely reactive and focused on structural mitigation measures such as canalization of rivers, raising river embankments and building multi-purpose dams. Better prediction is needed to enable proactive action to be taken.
One of the main barriers to the development of improved models is a lack of contextualized data from detailed local risk assessment, as data acquisition is challenging for various parameters such as terrain, infrastructure, pollution sources, geology, weather history and geological events. The institutional framework to address climate change is also fragmented and requires capacity development at the local level. Furthermore, most models were developed in middle and higher latitudes, while the meteorological and atmospheric conditions in tropical regions can be much more complex. Therefore, local observations need to be incorporated into models to produce localized forecast information. Lastly, coastal zone management in IM requires expertise in big data analytics and capacity building for scenario planning and forecasting climate risks.
The project will adapt carefully selected meteorological and hazard models for tropical conditions in IM and integrate them into the Iskandar Malaysia Multi-Hazard Platform (MHP), a common platform, which will be developed using technology similar to the Kuala Lumpur Multi-Hazard Platform. The platform will be used by the five local authorities in IM to support the management and communication of risks and strengthen the management of flash floods, landslides, sinkholes, strong winds, urban heat and air pollution in the region, thereby enhancing disaster resilience.
This city-level forecasting system will provide the impetus for social innovation by facilitating community-level disaster preparedness and empowering special groups to participate in disaster risk reduction. Ultimately, the MHP will support increased emergency planning capacities through heightened awareness of critical events and disasters while protecting vulnerable communities and their livelihoods.
Additionally, the MHP could support decision-making toward adaptive and holistic coastal zone management via specialist workshops and outreach events to enhance community awareness, and also through the provision of susceptibility maps for coastal hazards and floods. This could also include systematic monitoring and control measures to protect the existing mangrove areas, which have decreased at an alarming rate over the last few decades due to the development of the coastal region, intensified erosion, and the expansion of aquaculture activities.