“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark”

This year’s monsoon rains have had a devastating effect in Malaysia with close to 200,000 people forced to abandon their homes because of flooding.

What was the cause of the flooding?  Heavier than usual rains are of course a major factor but so too is the effect of human development of areas prone to flooding, as is the surrounding deforestation that continues at a worrying pace in Malaysia.

clean_waterI am lucky that our house is up in the hills but even here the impact of human development is easy to see.  The rivers are full of mud that is washed down from sites cleared for houses or roads – with no vegetation to ‘hold’ the soil the run off erodes the earth – and where does all this sediment end up?  Unfortunately down stream the rivers will get shallower (the soil with settle on the river floor where the river flows more slowly) and, therefore the river is more prone to burst its banks during heavy rain.  We are also seeing more landslides where people have cleared the slopes of trees and vegetation as, with no roots to hold the soil, it is more prone to slip.

The trees and vegetation (that are cleared to make way for roads and homes) are nature’s natural sponges; their roots not only hold the soil but absorb water during the rains.  Without them, surface run off increases and with it the risk of flooding.

I see a lot of developments where engineering tactics (i.e. man made drains, soil support systems) are employed to combat the impact of heavy rains but if we tip nature too much off balance these ‘band aids’ to compensate for the damage we’ve done to the surrounding countryside will be of little help.

As an example, a neighbour of ours who is developing a plot began by cutting down every tree and plant on his land.  The result:  land slides (his concrete drains were literally washed down the slope).  He might blame the land slides on the rains, but before he cleared the land there were no landslides…

As for the poor people who have been forced to abandon their homes because of the floods, both food and water are a problem for them.  You might think that water would be easy enough to find during a flood but the problem is to find clean water that is safe to drink.

Which brings us to this video on finding clean water in the jungle because, during the rains, the run off into the rivers is not only full of mud but also contains any animals droppings that are washed down with it (or even dead animals).