Time for society to take the lead in handling disasters

By Medecci Lineil

I would like to add something to the article “Are we prepared for natural disasters? Sadly no” written by Rita Jong dated Sept 3, 2015.

According to Rita, the reason for Malaysians’ lack of preparedness during disasters is lax attitude. She is correct.

For me, I think complacency is the reason.

The point is in order to get rid of complacency and lax attitude, our society needs more than just an empowerment or to become the first responder in any disaster and emergency, before and after.

We need to overcome complacency and do away with the dependency culture – being dependent on government initiatives to build early warning system, building homes for victims, giving cash assistance and medical treatment to victims and delivering goods to the victims, using taxpayer’s money.

Of course we are happy to receive all kinds of help from the government, but are we becoming more responsible to look after ourselves and property and be prepared mentally and financially in the future knowing the fact there is government assistance coming if another disaster strikes?

The answer is no.

Many of us do not realise that government intervention actually makes the problem worse. We hear a lot of criticism towards government for being slow to respond in several major disaster events.

Not only slow responses, but it also lacked coordination in allocating resources to the affected areas and mismanagement of cash assistance and aid for thousands of victims.

As a result, these victims became helpless and felt abandoned.

But some groups have already put together all their resources to help the victims.

We already have thousands of caring citizens and organisations like St John Ambulance, the Red Crescent, that are ready to help the affected areas.

We have businessmen and social enterprises who are willing to donate fresh water, clothes and rebuild homes, schools and clinics.

Whenever disaster strikes, we have so many concerned citizens on Facebook and Twitter, besides the mainstream media, who are ready to inform citizens around the country. They all respond to the news by donating millions in cash and kind and hundreds of hours in voluntary labour.

Another aspect of preparedness is where insurance is concerned. Properties such as houses, cars and even our lives can be insured against the risk of natural disasters.

The price of insurance is a good indicator of the risk of natural disasters.

For example, last year Allianz General Insurance Company (Malaysia) Berhad launched “Kampungku Insurance” a basic material damage insurance product to provide coverage for rural homes.

The first policy of its kind specially drawn up for rural dwellers is a fire insurance policy with a flood and windstorm extension as an emergency relief benefit at an affordable premium of RM70 a year.

In Sarawak, fire breaks out at longhouses every year.

Even state Youth Development (Rural) Assistant Minister Datuk Seri Stephen Rundi Atom recently admitted the logic of insurance when he said residents in interior who are building new longhouses or village houses must get insurance to protect themselves against any losses incurred in case of fire outbreaks.

He certainly is aware that it would be stupid for the government to pay to rebuild their longhouses after a fire because the residents will decide it no longer makes sense to be responsible.

As for education, I think the best way to equip Malaysians with survival tips in response to natural disasters is by producing TV advertisements similar to the 60-second educational video on National Geographic Channel in which Manny Pacquiao, a world boxing champion provides so-called “knockout advice” on what to do before and during a natural disaster, whether it is a typhoon, an earthquake, flood or fire.

Its graphic presentation and simple language make the tips easier for children to understand.

The bottom line is that the government should not take over roles that are better handled by the private sector such as voluntary labour, emergency response teams, infrastructure repairs and maintenance.

Only then can we build a highly prepared society ready for natural disasters.

First published in The Ant Daily on Sept 17, 2015.

 

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