KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — Growing up in Pasir Mas, Kelantan, Ng Yeen Seen recalls playing with floodwater during the year-end monsoon season when she was a child.
But over the years, the severity of these floods increased and in 2014, the East Coast state was brought to its knees after it was hit by the worst flood in Kelantan’s history.
When the disaster struck, Ng founded the relief organisation, Ops Harapan, as she wanted to help her hometown.
Through social media, she rallied her friends in the medical, pharmaceutical and nursing fields to come together to clean up affected areas.
“When I posted on Facebook and Twitter, people knew I was doing something to help and they wanted to donate things so we found ourselves accidentally starting a logistics hub,” she told Malay Mail.
In just three days, Ng gathered more than 100 volunteers.
She raised over RM100,000 in two days.
“People donated sarong, toothbrush and money but what I am very thankful for is cash donation from those who earn RM2,000 but gave RM500.
“Many of them were young Malaysians who knew they couldn’t go to Kelantan but wanted to contribute,” she said.
Corporate sponsors contributed cash, mattresses, rice, rice cookers, single stovetops, solar panels, helicopter trips to reach remote Orang Asli villages and gravity-powered water filters - two of which were mega-sized filters that came in handy for hospital patients who required dialysis.
There were also those who turned her down, asking her what she could do to save the world with RM10,000, claiming millions of ringgit donated to the government showed no impact.
Ng who currently leads the Centre for Research, Advisory and Technology (CREATE), a public policy advisory firm and think tank specialising in nation-building believes several factors contributed to the disaster that took place nearly five years ago.
“Urbanisation, overdevelopment, deforestation, less water catchment areas plus climate change and rising sea levels is a combination that spells out disaster,” she said.
As Malaysia gears up for the oncoming monsoon season that typically lasts from November to March, Ng is keeping her fingers crossed that her hometown will be spared this year.
In a recent report, Kelantan police chief Datuk Hasanuddin said all 10 districts in the state are at risk of flooding.
“The good thing about being a small foundation is we don’t need to have 10 meetings before making a decision so we are fast,” she said.
During Ops Harapan’s relief mission, volunteers took over emergency rooms because doctors in Kelantan were stuck at home due to rising water levels.
With water levels as high as two storeys, Ng said it took volunteers hours to clean up the mud that was left behind.
The health clinics in Kelantan were in such bad shape that the health department in Kelantan dispatched Ops Harapan volunteers to clean them up.
“Our nursing students worked the hardest, cleaning every surface with a brush until it could be operational again,” she said.
“This is what young Malaysians can do when the country is in a crisis, we are so united.”
But the conditions Ng witnessed will haunt her forever.
Roofs and walls were flattened and the entire state was out of power and water for nine days.
Luckily, her family home was spared despite being in front of a river and only their lower garage was underwater.
“People queued outside my family home asking for things even before I started the charity,” she said.
And then there were stories of those who had to climb onto rooftops, trees and higher ground to save their lives.
Ng and her team met an elderly couple who lived in the jungle for four days before help came.
Like many others, their home was completely destroyed.
Another couple who lived on a stilted house climbed to their rooftop when water levels rose too quickly and sat in the rain until they were rescued.
“The definition of floods to me after the 2014 disaster, is losing your home, it’s something that you have to run for your life without taking anything but a bottle of water, your passport and identity card – to me that’s a disaster,” said Ng.
“So far, we haven’t experienced a major disaster like 2014 and we rather Ops Harapan be inactive than to have disasters.”