Malaysia’s coastlines are vulnerable to sea level rise. The Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS) has run a digital simulation showing that 9 major states will have land below sea level by 2050.
Here are 5 Malaysian cities and states that are slowly sinking and the signs you should look out for.
Once seen as a salvation for the state’s water woes, drilling for underground water may cause the state to sink. Ground settlement caused by groundwater drawing could bring more floods, according to land surveying expert Dr Yong Chien Zheng.
Kelantan is one of the highest groundwater consumers, with New Zealand researchers finding that the northern part of the state has been sinking at a rate of 4.2mm a year. – Jaseni Maidinsa, Penang Water Supply Corp CEO
Although Dr Zheng said that insufficient data made it difficult to pinpoint the root cause, there was a high correlation between subsidence – the sinking of land or buildings to a lower level – and groundwater extraction.
The current subsiding rate in Kelantan is very much like Jakarta before the 1970s. The growing demand for groundwater in the Indonesian city drove a massive groundwater extraction that led to increased subsidence rates.
As a result, about 40% of Jakarta is now below sea level. – Dr Yong Chien Zheng, University of Otago, New Zealand
Hydro-environmental specialist Datuk Dr Azuhan Mohamed, who retired as Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd (AKSB) general manager earlier this month, says otherwise. He states that action had been taken to identify the sinking claims, but checks with the Mineral and Geoscience Department found no such incidents.
The small volume of groundwater extraction will not cause land sinking and if there was land sinking, the people in Kelantan would have complained about cracks on their houses or their stairs falling out. – Datuk Dr Azuhan Mohamed, former AKSB general manager
Dr Zheng reported that most Kelantanese had turned to traditional ways of taking groundwater or “air boring” as they were sick of constant water cuts and murky tap water.
Throughout our time living here, it has been a trauma. – Yasmin Nihar Shaik Mohammed, Klang resident and mother of three
For Klang residents like Yasmin, floods are a constant source of trauma and woe. Last year, the state was hit by floods five times over five months, with the most disastrous being December 17th and 18th 2021.
Former Klang MP Charles Santiago warns that these floods will only worsen with rising sea levels and climate change if nothing is done to mitigate them.
Klang will end up being submerged by 2050 if nothing is done. – Charles Santiago, Klang MP
MP Santiago cited the Cent-GPS 2019 report, mentioning that many coastal cities in the country, including Klang, will be underwater in 30 years. Another research report released by Nature.com stated that Klang will be submerged due to rising sea levels and climate change.
Klang has been hit by flood five times in five months, with the worst one on Dec 17 and 18 last year. It is a port city with a high population density which needs additional funds to increase the capacity of its drainage systems. – Charles Santiago, Klang MP
Others share his worries. Klima Action Malaysia chairwoman Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar said that beyond losing coastal areas to rising sea levels, climate change could also cause disruption. This could widen the gap between haves and the have-nots. These include water supply insecurity and food production issues.
We are not just talking about losing infrastructure, but we will be losing lands. Many will be displaced and will have to move. The youth are worried, because if we survive the next 50 years, we will have this problem. – lli Nadiah Dzulfakar, Klima Action Malaysia chairwoman
Santiago stresses the importance of authorities taking immediate steps to upgrade drainage and irrigation systems to deal with the increase in rainfall. In addition, authorities should considering issuing government bonds if necessary to fund climate change and flood mitigation projects.
We need to widen monsoon drains, increase the capacity of sluice gates, build flood retention ponds, and increase the height of the bunds along the coastal areas. We need a lot more funds for these jobs. – Charles Santiago, Klang MP
Civil engineer associate professor, Lee Wei Koon of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) said one solution thegovernment can consider to stop coastal areas from sinking is to build tidal barrages to shield vulnerable areas from being inundated during high tide and also manage river levels. This solution is, however, very expensive.
Regardless, this is something very new to us, and whether or not it is suitable for Klang, for example, will depend on the geology. The pressure overload on the structure itself is something that needs to be considered and studied. – Lee Wei Koon, Civil engineer associate professor, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
Penang is already in danger of losing its beaches, and favourite local spots like Pasir Panjang and Batu Ferringhi may soon disappear.
There are rocks everywhere where there used to be sand. I think all the sand has been washed away and these rocks that were buried below the sand have been exposed. It is shocking, what has happened? – Mohd Sabri Abd Mutolib, Penang Hill funicular train worker, talking about Pasir Panjang beach
And the island has suffered frequent flash floods. In 2022, several houses in Batu Maung, Bayan Lepas and George Town were affected by heavy rain. This heavy downpour has also caused water in Sungai Pinang to rise 2.5m above the danger level.
After my wife and I realised water had entered our house, we quickly moved all the electrical items to a safer place. The water rose rapidly but had receded by 9am today. – Razak Abdul Hashim, a resident of Kampung Naran in Batu Maung
This is especially problematic for the Penang government’s plans to increase the island’s land area via land reclamation, as the man-made islands will be susceptible to sea level damage.
With rising sea levels, these newly reclaimed areas will be flooded. Water will rush into basement parking lots and roads will become impassable. The sand on the newly created islands may become unstable, causing danger to high-rise buildings. – Dr Hans-Dieter Evers, Professor Emeritus of the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
The “Rice Bowl of Malaysia” has been under threat from sea level rise and climate change for years now.
Rice farmers like Yusof Awang Kechik say that weather has become more unpredictable, affecting their rice crops.
Weather conditions are now somehow peculiar and hard to predict. – Yusof Awang Kechik, retired rice farmer
Kedah is considered the state most vulnerable to sea level rise. The granary areas under the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) (including Yusof’s rice fields) are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise flooding (especially during the South-west Monsoon period) due to their low-lying coastal plains.
During the June 2016 flood, when high tide prevented inland floods from flowing out to the sea, resulting in a 2-day inundation of the granary area. As a result of this flood, paddy farmers in the Kuala Kedah area suffered losses of more than 75% due to seawater encroachment into their paddy fields.
#5: Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is 7,060 km from the Arctic Circle. However, our capital city would not escape a substantial rise in sea levels within the next few years. This is if carbon emissions remain at business-as-usual levels.
Indeed, flash floods have become more frequent in recent years. This is much to the chagrin of KL residents who now have to deal with flooded roads, houses and damage costs.
Living in KL is not relevant anymore. It floods after rain, I am wasting my life in traffic. Living costs are high. It is causing so much stress that it may turn into burnout. We want a long life. – Syamil Yusri, Twitter user
Reportedly, the floods of mid-December 2021 and early January 2022 caused an estimated RM6.1 billion (S$1.97 billion) in overall losses. The Department of Statistics has further stated that damage to public assets and infrastructure caused losses of RM2 billion, followed by RM1.6 billion in damage to homes.
To say that this (flood) is one in 100 years is something I doubt… with climate change the rains will be more frequent and torrential. – Mr Salleh Mohd Nor, former president and senior advisor at the Malaysian Nature Society
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has already embarked on a long-term plan to resolve the flash flooding issue with 14 interim measures under the KL Flash Flood Mitigation Action Plan 2022.
This plan aims to improve current infrastructure with flood-prevention capabilities such as resurfacing roads and public walkways with water-absorbent Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA) (thereby allowing rainwater to seep through and be absorbed by the ground underneath) as well as stepping up basic operations including daily cleaning and removal of obstructions like garbage and tree roots from rivers and drains.
Explore our sources:
- A. Dorall. (2019). 9 M’sian Cities Will Be Underwater By 2050 Due To Rising Sea Levels. The Rakyat Post. Link.
- A. Shah & I.M. Iskandar. (2022). Kelantan may be sinking. The Star. Link.
- P. Nambiar. (2022). Groundwater out of the question, Penang tells Putrajaya. FMT. Link.
- A. Shah & I.M. Iskandar. (2022) Kelantan is not sinking, says Minerals and Geosciences Dept. The Star. Link.
- A.S. Mohsen. (2022). As Klang sinks, whither the solutions? The Vibes. Link.
- D. Ragu. (2022). Klang will ‘drown’ by 2050 if drainage system not improved, warns MP. FMT. Link.
- The Star. (2022). Erosion at Pasir Panjang beach shocks locals. Link.
- Bernama. (2022). Flash floods hit several areas in Penang, Perlis. FMT. Link.
- N. Trisha. (2022) Sg Pinang rises 2.5m above danger level, flash floods in Bayan Lepas. The Star. Link.
- A. Dermawan. (2019). ‘PSR puts Penang in danger’. New Straits Times. Link.
- S.L. Leoi, I. Hilmy & H. Sivanandam. (n.d.). The Sea Also Rises. The Star Shorthand. Link.
- MALAYSIA THIRD NATIONAL COMMUNICATION AND SECOND BIENNIAL UPDATE REPORT TO THE UNFCCC (2018). Link.
- S. Samsuddin Sah et al. (2021). Submerging paddy cultivation area due to coastal flooding in Kuala Kedah, Malaysia. IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science 880. Link.
- A. Yeo. (2022). Will Kuala Lumpur become the next flooding city like Jakarta? Focus Malaysia. Link.
- M. Kaur. (2022). Social media users rage over another flash flood in KL. Sinar Daily. Link.
- Reuters. (2022). Malaysia floods caused nearly $2 billion in losses. The Straits Time. Link.
- Reuters. (2022). ‘Surprise’ urban Malaysia floods drive pleas for climate action. The Straits Times. Link.
- N. Daim & T.Z. Sofia. (2022). DBKL embarks on long-term plan to resolve flash floods [NSTTV] New Straits Times. Link.