The harsh realities of rebuilding livelihoods in the aftermath of the 2014 floods in Malaysia

The true impact of the December 2014 floods on Malaysians remains visible and distressing.  It is heartbreaking to see that after having their lives completely disrupted by disaster, and in some cases, even ruined, the flood victims continue to endure harsh realities post disaster – the hardships faced as they attempt to rebuild their lives with whatever possessions or opportunities remaining within their grasps.

Their stories serve as a reminder that the responsibilities of government in respect of disaster management are not limited to merely ensuring the safety of the people during the disaster but also extends to the post-event duties of rehabilitation, reconstruction, among other things, and assisting victims in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, in line with Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights —


Following are a handful of such stories, told from the perspectives of the 2014 flood victims:-

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Just like this broken signboard, the lives of villagers along Pahang River are in ruins. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Just like this broken signboard, the lives of villagers along Pahang River are in ruins. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

TEMERLOH, June 29 — The famed Temerloh patin industry is in utter despair with breeders and restaurant owners lamenting they have yet to get back on their feet after floods ruined their livelihood last December.

Pahang River overflowed on December 24 after continuous rain, causing strong currents to displace or damage fish cages and fishing equipment.

Checks at the riverside village of Kampung Tebal revealed damaged cages abandoned by their owners.

Some in the food and beverage business along the river said they had to make do with whatever patin that was left so they could remain open.

Muhd Ramzan Ayub, 30, who breeds patin and tilapia, said he suffered nearly RM80,000 in losses with 12 cages washed away while restaurant owner Nurhidayah Zulkifli, 26, said her business was badly affected after the source of her specialty dish was gone.

Their pleas for help are similar to that of the people in Taman Negara where people are unable to pick up the pieces since the floods.

Kampung Tebal residents spoke of the difficulties during and after the floods, sharing their grievances of not receiving enough aid to cover the losses.

Chenor, 25km from Temerloh, is also one of the worst-hit areas.

The businesses and homes at the riverside town were submerged in water, leaving nothing behind but mud and broken hearts.

Shop owner Osman Alif, 62, who lives in a two-storey wooden shop barely 500m away from Pahang River, said his losses of RM12,000 were too much to bear.

He said years of hard work to buy and collect kitchen appliances for his restaurant was gone in 24 hours.

He also lost everything in his house, which is above his restaurant.

Army retiree Tengku Hussain Tengku Ahmad, 50, said his plan to expose the villagers to the Internet was lost after his cybercafe was destroyed.

Having saved up RM300,000 to open the business, he lost all when the floods damaged the computers, laptops and other gadgets.

Osman and Tengku Hussain said SME Corporation Malaysia’s offer to aid villagers by asking them to buy items first and be reimbursed later was not helpful as they did not have money to begin with.

They are thus asking for financial aid from the government.

Source: The Malay Mail Online

TEMERLOH, June 29 — Muhd Ramzan Ayub, 30, from Kampung Tebal has been finding it difficult to make ends meet since the big flood in December.

Muhd Ramzan salvaged and repaired whatever he could after his fish cages were damaged in the floods. ― Malay Mail pix
Muhd Ramzan salvaged and repaired whatever he could after his fish cages were damaged in the floods. ― Malay Mail pic

Muhd Ramzan, who has been in the fish breeding industry for 10 years, said there was nothing he could do to save the patin and tilapia cages that were damaged by strong currents when Sungai Pahang rose 75m on December 24.

He said although there was talk of aid for the villagers since January, none of them had received any.

“I rely solely on my fish business to feed my family but when the cages were destroyed, I had nowhere to turn to.”

Muhd Ramzan said it took three months to clean up the mess.

“We salvaged and repaired whatever we could. The rest had to be thrown away,” he said.

He suffered nearly RM80,000 in losses with 12 cages washed away.

“Each cage holds up to hundreds of fishes and can cost up to RM6,000. How can I replace everything at one go when I cannot even afford one new cage?”

Another fish breeder, Khairul Naim Ramli, 32, also from Kampung Tebal, said it took a week before he could clean up and assess the damage caused by the floods.

“I only lost four cages, so I don’t feel the pinch of having to refurbish all the cages. I also have a side business.”

Khairul Naim said many patin cage owners were still waiting for government aid to help them rebuild their businesses.

“The only aid we received was from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation which gave a minimum of RM1,000 to those affected.”

He said many breeders abandoned their cages because they couldn’t afford to repair the ruined ones.

Muhd Ramzan and Khairul Naim said it was difficult to locate many of their fellow breeders by the riverside because they had left to find work elsewhere.

Nurhidayah’s shop was knee-deep in mud after the floods - Malay Mail pic
Nurhidayah’s shop was knee-deep in mud after the floods – Malay Mail pic

She suffered RM3,000 in damages to her shop which remained closed after the floods.

“The supply of patin and tilapia has depleted. We decided to temporarily close the business as we had nothing to sell.”

Nurhidayah said it was still a challenge to get back to everyday life six months after the floods.

She said she received RM1,000 aid from the Welfare Department after the floods subsided when her family was relocated to SK Bandar Temerloh, but it was not enough to cover the losses.

Her family survived on food aid that was distributed at the school to displaced families and businesses.

Nurhidayah said she had to throw away all electrical appliances in her shop when she returned after two weeks.

“The shop was knee-deep in mud and I could not save anything. My main concern during the flood was my family’s safety.”

“We have to survive with what we have for now, and hope everything will be back to normal soon because we have nothing else but this restaurant.”

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Tengku Hussain shows the damaged computers in his shop. His dream to expose youth to the cyberworld was gone in the blink of an eye. ― Malay Mail pic
Tengku Hussain shows the damaged computers in his shop. His dream to expose youth to the cyberworld was gone in the blink of an eye. ― Malay Mail pic

CHENOR, June 29 — Coming back to his hometown after 30 years in the big city, Tengku Hussain Tengku Ahmad wanted to give the young in Bandar Lama Chenor a chance to explore technology through the cyberworld.

The 50-year-old army retiree’s years of labour to save up RM300,000 to open up a cybercafe was gone in the blink of an eye after the floods destroyed the computers, laptops and other gadgets in his shop.

Tengku Hussain said the old town had no other place that provided free Internet access.

“It was nice having the young hanging out at my shop because I could educate them about the cyberworld and the history of the town which many have forgotten.”

Tengku Hussain, who grew up in Chenor, said the town was close to his heart because of its historical value.

“This town used to be one of the river transits when we had no roads. It was only accessible by boat through Pahang River,” he said.

He said many of those living there were accustomed to the rivers and flooding was nothing new to them.

“Last year’s floods took us by surprise,” he said.

He recalled the rapid rise of the water level of Pahang River.

“We are prepared for massive flooding every four years, with the last in 2013. We didn’t expect it to happen again so soon.”

Tengku Hussain said water rose up to his waist. The next thing he knew, his shop was submerged.

He said villagers used boats to conduct rescue missions, transferring people to safety at SMK Tengku Ampuan Afzan.

“We were disconnected from each other with high water levels, rising tension and our dead phone batteries,” he said.

Over 100 families comprising 320 people were cramped in the school hall.

“We were more worried about the safety of the people than our properties.”

He said after the floods subsided, it was pure despair.

Tengku Hussain lost almost everything he built over five years. Even then, he was not entirely disheartened.

“I can still look for income in other sectors but for those who have nothing but their small businesses are affected the most because they have to rebuild everything.”

He said although food aid was given, it was almost impossible to rebuild their businesses.

“SME Corporation Malaysia told villagers to buy everything first before claiming from the company with receipts. How can we do that if we do not have any money?”

He said they appreciated the help but were still in the lurch because many had to fork out their own money to replace items.

“What can we do with RM500 aid? We can barely feed ourselves for a week, what more repair our broken premises.”

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Osman not only lost his source of income but also his electrical items in Bandar Lama Chenor after the floods hit on December 24. ― Malay Mail file pic
Osman not only lost his source of income but also his electrical items in Bandar Lama Chenor after the floods hit on December 24. ― Malay Mail file pic

CHENOR, June 29 — Restaurant operator Osman Alif is upset with the authorities for ignoring the plight of flood victims here.

“We got RM500 from the Welfare Department as well as food supply for two weeks but what happened after that was a bigger problem than the floods,” he said.

Osman, 62, said the villagers were left to fend for themselves after being out of business for over three months after the floods.

He said he was upset when he heard of the amount of assistance sent to earthquake victims in Nepal and Sabah.

“Maybe I cannot equate the situation here to what happened there, but what about us?”

He said weeks after the floods subsided, no one visited their town to check on their situation.

“The Welfare Department officers only met us at the relocation centre and until today, no one has come to check on us.”

Osman not only lost his source of income but also his electrical items in Bandar Lama Chenor after the floods hit on December 24.

Osman, who opened his restaurant by the riverside 19 years ago, said his family would have a low-key Hari Raya after losing almost RM12,000 worth of appliances in his restaurant and home.

“We live with whatever we have now because we cannot afford new items.”

He said after being relocated to SMK Tengku Ampuan Afzan in Chenor for over two weeks, returning to his home and restaurant was the most difficult thing to do.

“What used to be the walls of our restaurant was rubble on the floor and all our electrical items including three fridges were covered in mud.”

Osman said his family needed financial help to get their business moving again.

“Our restaurant could make a maximum of RM200 a day and we relied heavily on this income.”

He said help offered by SME Corporation Malaysia was duly appreciated but he and his family had no funds to replace everything.

“We just nailed back pieces of broken wood we could find and that is the best we have.”

Source: The Malay Mail Online

The aftermath of the floods in Gua Musang January 10, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The aftermath of the floods in Gua Musang January 10, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — Months after the nation was hit by its worst-ever flood crisis, many among Kelantan’s Orang Asli community still remain homeless, with no clear hope of ever rebuilding their lives, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

In a news feature by the international broadcaster, journalists reported seeing Orang Asli families forced into tents or makeshift bamboo and tarpaulin shelters by the roadside in Gua Musang when they visited the town in February.

While the flooding cut the mountain Orang Asli villages off from the outside world for a month, it was even more devastating to the villages in the valley, the article on Al Jazeera’s website said.

The journalists also noted few signs of reconstruction.

According to Al Jazeera, the Orang Asli don’t know when or even if their houses will be rebuilt, and that the lack of formal deeds to their land may make it difficult for them to receive compensation or financial aid.

However, Mohamed Thajudeen bin Abdul Wahab, secretary of the National Security Council, maintains that there has been “no major issue in aid delivery.”

“In fact, there was an overabundance in supply of food sources. It is not true that people didn’t receive enough help,” Thajudeen was quoted telling Al Jazeera.

He said the government would not rebuild houses along riverbank areas due to the risk of future flooding, and that the reconstruction of 400 houses was already under way, and is expected to be finished by June.

“Being poor, most of them are squatters and do not own land,” said Thajudeen.

“They were squatting on land not belonging to them. As such again, the government couldn’t rebuild these houses.

“As land was a state matter, not a federal matter, the federal government [has] had to wait for the state government to identify suitable land for reconstruction of these houses.”

But Colin Nicholas from the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), an NGO that assists in legal cases and advocates for Orang Asli rights, told Al Jazeera the government has left it to NGOs to provide services for several Orang Asli villages hit by the floods.

Dendi, an Orang Asli youth leader from Kuala Wok, a village in the mountains of Kelantan, expressed disappointment at the government’s response.

“Sometimes, the government close their eyes, close their ears,” he said. “They don’t care about Orang Asli.”

The floods that struck the east coast of peninsula Malaysia late last year were the worst in the country in decades, displacing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Source: The Star Online

Mar 28 – Rebuilding of homes is painfully slow as allocated funds are tied up in red tape.

It is unbearably hot in the tent, even with the fan at full blast.

Two-year-old Hetty Cristina Naziha’s eyelids are heavy but she just can’t sleep, no matter how her mother cajoles her. Her sisters have long fled the tent, seeking shelter elsewhere.

Though it’s much better than being homeless, it’s getting more difficult for flood victims who have to live in tents while waiting for their permanent homes. The tents turn into furnaces under the merciless sun during the day, and the thin walls offer scant protection from the cold at night.

Hetty’s mother Mariam Majid takes her out to the makeshift kitchen in their camp site where it’s slightly cooler.

“Most afternoons, we sit here. It is just too hot to be in the tent. But even the wind that blows is hot,” says Mariam, pointing at how dry and parched her arms are.

Eight other families live in the tent site at Kampung Kuala Nal near Kuala Krai. It’s one of the many villages that were ravaged by the floods that hit Kelantan last December.

“Our house was completely destroyed in the floods. It was a rented house and we have nowhere to go. It’s too expensive to rent another house,” adds Mariam whose husband does odd jobs.

The floods washed away 1,827 homes in Kelantan, and left a trail of destruction and despair that folks here are still struggling to come to terms with. Flood-hardened Kelantanese had never seen the water rise so high and so fast. “It was even worse than the big floods of 1967,” say the ones old enough to remember. They also say the damage is so much more massive.

The hardest hit are the villages along Sungai Kelantan, especially those in the Kuala Krai district. Three months after the floods, much of the debris has been cleared off but few houses have been repaired or rebuilt. The worst hit are also the most vulnerable – the poor who live in wooden houses that collapsed like cardboard and who are least able to recoup their losses. But even those in brick homes are not spared; some structures still stand but everything else including cars, is damaged.

In the afternoons, the tents are like furnaces and are abandoned as people seek relief from the heat - The Star pic
In the afternoons, the tents are like furnaces and are abandoned as people seek relief from the heat – The Star pic
Even three months of furious cleaning has not scrubbed away the mud. Kuala Krai is stained yellow, with watermarks on buildings and mud residue on treetops clearly marking how high the floods rose.

In badly ravaged Manik Urai, shiny new buntings bearing faces of visiting VIPs stand out amid the dust and destruction. The buntings lead to the five “model houses” which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak launched at the end of January. The Government has pledged to build 138 houses standing on stilts as high as 2.4m for Manik Urai Lama villagers who lost homes. But two months on, the model houses remain uncompleted.

“The contractor has 75 days to complete the houses,” says Manik Urai JKKKP chaiman (equivalent to headman) Che Din Che Noh who wouldn’t comment further on the delay. But he notes that the cost of each house has gone up from RM48,000 to RM55,000.

The Federal Government has pledged RM500mil for rebuilding and RM10,000 per household for repairs but the disbursement has been hampered by bureaucracy. Villagers without land grants are not eligible for funds. Tenants and squatters on railway and river reserve land are also not eligible for aid.

“In Manik Urai, 80% of the villagers don’t have land grants. They have never applied for a grant. Many could not afford to do it. Of the 178 who have applied for funds to rebuild their homes, only 10 have land grants.

“There are 502 households in this area, 138 suffered total loss and 271 need to be repaired. But some have not sent in the forms for funds because of the grant issue,” says Che Din, who has been busy attending meetings with the authorities to resolve the land grant issue and appealing for leniency.

Shut down: In Kuala Krai, shops which have been operating for decades remain closed as their losses were massive - The Star pic
Shut down: In Kuala Krai, shops which have been operating for decades remain closed as their losses were massive – The Star pic
“The authorities should allow the village headman to vouch for the families without land grants. The urgency now is to get the funds so we can start repairing and rebuilding the homes. Otherwise, many will be spending their Hari Raya in the tents. Maybe when it floods at the end of the year, it will be the tents that will be swept away,” he says.

On Sunday, Kelantan Joint Committee on Flood Relief chairman Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed announced that the Federal Government is acquiring private land to build permanent houses for the flood victims, particularly those who do not own land.

In a news report, Mustapa said the Federal Government would build 1,244 permanent houses for the 1,827 households whose houses were completely destroyed in the floods.

“There are 280 contractors in Kuala Krai, so we can do the rebuilding. But first we need the funds,” says Che Din.

The waiting game

Meanwhile, flood victims have to put up in tents. In Kg Guchil, Zakiah Seman, 34, finds refuge under a tree in Desa Sakinah, a “tent city” built by non-profit organisation Al-Ikram to temporarily house 48 flood-stricken families from the nearby villages.

“He is known as our bayi banjir (flood baby),” she says as she cuddles her four-month-old baby whose cheeks and arms are covered in heat rash.

The 50 tents are on the SK Bonggol Guchil’s school field, with a kitchen at one end and washrooms at another. There is also a large tent that serves as a communal hall. Al-Ikram also provides daily provisions and aid for the tent dwellers, and organises activities such as counselling sessions and football games.

There are also those who prefer to set up their tents in their own compounds. Villagers make use of their homes’ remaining structures to fashion makeshift shelters, with strung up tarp sheets as walls and roofing.

Mariam Majid and her daughters cant bear to stay in the tent in the afternoon heat.
Mariam Majid and her daughters find their tent unbearable during the day – The Star pic
In every flood-affected area we visited, flood victims say NGOs and various agencies have been helping out diligently. Most say they have received their Wang Ehsan of RM500 from the government. They also do not lack provisions and aid.

In fact, they say donations are so plentiful some are selling them off.

Now that most of the initial recovery work is done, flood victims’ most pressing need is rebuilding their homes.

The discomfort and displacement of living in temporary shelters is getting to them.

As the shock of their loss wears off, tent-dwellers are frustrated by the delay in getting funds. Those who have savings can afford to start construction but many are without safety nets to deal with a tragedy of this scale. “Al-Ikram has permission to use this land until June. They will give us up to RM300 subsidy for six months to help us with the rent after we move out of the tents. But everyone is also looking for houses, so rent has gone up in Kuala Krai. I don’t know what will happen,” says Norihan Ibrahim, 43, who suffers from cramps at night due to the cold.

Temporary relief

NGOs working here, such as Mercy Malaysia and Tzu Chi Foundation, recognise that the tents and makeshift shelters are not suitable living quarters. They have begun building transit homes to provide better conditions for families, especially those with children, the elderly and sick.

“Our first priority is to get them out of the tents. Even a month is too long for them to be living in tents,” says Mercy Malaysia programme officer Rachel Yao.

So far, Mercy Malaysia has built about 90 transit homes for the state’s flood victims, of which about 60 are centred in Kampung Tualang, Jalan Geale and Kg Bekok, which the organisation has unofficially “adopted”. The homes are modelled after the traditional Malay house, with a hall and a room. They work closely with the local community, employing them as builders and providing them with tools to repair their homes.

Villagers make the most of whatever is left of their homes to build temporary shelters using tarp and wood. Sarimah Bakar lives there with her seven children and husband who recently had a heart bypass,
Villagers make the most of whatever is left of their homes to build temporary shelters using tarp and wood. Sarimah Bakar lives here with her seven children and husband who recently had a heart bypass – The Star pic
More importantly, Mercy has also approached land owners to allow them to build transit homes for landless families.

In Kg Tualang, Mercy has built a cluster of 31 transit homes on a plot of private land that is designed for communal living.

Norhayati Ibrahim, 45, and Nurul Syuhaila Yusof, 36, who moved here a month ago are grateful for the shelter and stability these homes have given their families.

“Our landlord won’t let us rebuild on his land. But that was where we have lived since birth. It was sad,” shares Norhayati. To lessen their homesickness, the 10 families from Norhayati’s village requested to live on the same block in the new settlement.

“Thankfully Mercy agreed and we live close to each other,” says Norhayati.

Nik Azman Shah Nik Hassan, 56 and his wife Raja Zainab Raja Ismail, 46 are making their transit house into a home as they dont know when they can rebuild their home.
Nik Azman Shah Nik Hassan, 56, and his wife Raja Zainab Raja Ismail, 46, are making their transit house into a home as they don’t know when they can rebuild their home – The Star pic
In Manik Urai, businessman Nik Azman Shah Nik Hassan, 56, was the first to move into a transit home built by the Tzu Chi Foundation.
“For two months after the flood, our home was a platform with no window or door, “ he says, gesturing to a concrete platform which used to be the hall of their destroyed home. “We did everything in the open, with no privacy. The living conditions were hard … hot in the day and cold at night,” recalls Nik Azman.

Tzu Chi also employs the villagers to help them in the effort – they are paid to clear the land area and to help construct the units. It takes five days for three persons to build a transit home, and there is an urgency to get as many transit homes up as possible.

Although it is only a temporary shelter, Azman is determined to make it his home. He has tiled the area in the front and the back and will plant flowers to make a garden. “It has been three months and I don’t know how long we have to wait to build our home, so I am making the best of this temporary home,” says the 59-year-old, who has two teenage sons living with him.

But these transit homes by Tzu Chi and Mercy are only meant to last two years.

“The flood victims must move on,” says Yao.



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