Malaysia at a Glance
Population: 33.5 million (2022)
Major Threats: Floods, Landslides, Haze (local and transboundary), Forest Fires, Earthquakes
Populations Affected: Urban and Rural Poor Communities, Farmers, Coastal Communities
Locations Affected: Nearly the Entire Length and Breadth of the Malaysia Peninsula
Industries Affected: Public Assets and Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Tourism, Agriculture
Compounding Issues: Urbanization and Population Density, Deforestation and Land Use Changes, Climate Change, Poor Waste Management, Socioeconomic Disparities, Health and Epidemics, Infrastructure Vulnerability, Limited Awareness and Preparedness
World Risk Index Ranking: 35
Global Climate Risk Index: 99 (2019)
Malaysia’s location outside the “Pacific Rim of Fire” means it faces lower risks of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons. Nevertheless, it remains vulnerable to other disasters like floods, landslides, man-made calamities, and haze. Extreme weather events, including thunderstorms, floods, and earthquakes, have caused significant damage recently. These disasters are linked to factors such as exposure to the typhoon belt, rising global temperatures, deforestation, and rapid urbanization. Floods are the most significant threat, leading to casualties, property damage, and crop destruction. Malaysia has experienced numerous natural disasters in the past two decades.
Malaysia had the highest percentage of its population exposed to floods among ASEAN Member States between 2012 and 2019. The INFORM 2019 report rates Malaysia’s Natural Hazard and Exposure risk at 3.4/10.
The costliest disaster recorded in Malaysia was the December 2021 floods, which led to numerous fatalities, the evacuation of thousands, and significant financial losses. Heavy rainfall submerged areas, especially on the west coast, creating waterways out of roads. Overall, Malaysia faces a range of natural and man-made hazards, and while efforts are made to mitigate risks and adapt to climate change, vigilance and preparedness remain crucial in managing the impact of disasters.
Major Threats and Economy
Disasters in Malaysia pose significant threats to the economy, causing extensive damage to infrastructure, agriculture, industry, trade, and human lives. They disrupt society and government functioning, eroding confidence and resilience in people and businesses. The economic impacts of disasters vary based on their type, severity, frequency, and location.
The disasters affecting Malaysia include devastating floods during the summer monsoon season, storms with strong winds and heavy rain during the typhoon season, and epidemics like the COVID-19 pandemic that led to economic challenges and lockdowns. The Department of Statistics reported that the flooding in several Malaysian states in late December 2021 and early January 2022 caused losses of RM6.1 billion (US$1.46 billion), equivalent to 0.4% of the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The most affected industry was public assets and infrastructure, with RM2 billion in losses, followed by houses (RM1.6 billion), vehicles (RM1.0 billion), manufacturing industry (RM0.9 billion), business premises (RM500 million), and the agricultural industry (RM90.6 million).
As of March 2023, the risk index for natural disasters in Malaysia indicates that the highest risk is from tsunamis (7.1 out of 10), followed by flooding (6.6 out of 10), earthquakes (5.8 out of 10), landslides (5.7 out of 10), and drought (4.8 out of 10). These natural disasters can significantly impact various economic sectors, including tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and services.
Climate Change Impacts
Malaysia, as the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in ASEAN and accounting for 0.52% of global carbon emissions, is committed to emission reduction. There are plans in place to cut an additional 32 million tonnes by 2020 and aim for a 45% reduction by 2030. Climate change has diverse impacts on Malaysia, affecting its environment, economy, and society. Rising temperatures lead to heatwaves and agricultural challenges, while extreme weather events cause damage to infrastructure and crops. Rising sea levels threaten coastal areas like Kuala Lumpur with increased flooding and erosion. Changes in precipitation patterns impact agriculture, biodiversity, and water resources, leading to water shortages and health risks. Climate change also poses risks to infrastructure and may affect Malaysia’s tourism industry. Additionally, it could exacerbate poverty and inequality, particularly affecting low-income earners dependent on climate-sensitive activities and living in vulnerable areas.
Malaysia is particularly vulnerable to flooding, with this natural hazard contributing more damage than any other natural disaster that the country experiences. The frequency and extremity of flood events have increased in recent decades, with projections showing they will continue to increase with continued global warming. During the northeast monsoon season, the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events associated with monsoon surges and other synoptic features are increasing, leading to a rise in disaster occurrences. Damages to infrastructure, homes, businesses, and agricultural land have been significant because of these increasing flood events. The rising waters during floods cause extensive property destruction, disrupt transportation networks, and pose threats to human lives and public safety. Additionally, floods can lead to economic losses due to business interruptions, damage to crops and livestock, and increased expenses for disaster response and recovery efforts.
Malaysia’s geographical location exposes it to various geophysical hazards. It is near the Pacific Typhoon Belt, making it susceptible to tropical storms and cyclones during the typhoon season. Rising global temperatures due to climate change led to more extreme weather events, like heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, and heatwaves. The country also faces the threat of rising sea levels, increasing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion in low-lying areas, including major cities. Malaysia’s tropical climate and monsoon seasons can cause floods and landslides, especially in hilly regions. Although the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis is generally low, its proximity to tectonic plate boundaries poses potential seismic activity such as the 2015 earthquake in Sabah, a state in East Malaysia.
Adaptation and Local Context
Malaysia adopts a comprehensive approach to tackling floods, using both structural (e.g., maintenance, early warning systems) and non-structural measures (e.g., nature-based solutions, resettlement programs). They prioritize sustainable water management through regulatory interventions, education, and increased funding for flood mitigation projects. Additionally, climate change factors are considered in the design of flood and coastal protection structures to enhance resilience. Flood hazard and risk maps are shared to promote collaboration and disaster risk reduction efforts.
Investing in disaster risk reduction is critical to minimizing damage. Concerns have been raised that climate change could accelerate the processes threatening Malaysia’s natural resources. Malaysia’s Tenth (2011–2015) and Eleventh (2016–2020) National Plans have targeted significant investment in climate resilience enhancements. In 2018, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment submitted Malaysia’s Third National Communication and Second Biennial Update to the UNFCCC. Malaysia ratified the Paris Climate Agreement and its Nationally Determined Contribution in November 2016.
Since the 2015 reorganization of federal government structures and the establishment of the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), Malaysia has significantly improved its disaster management efforts. The proactive approach to disaster risk and response is evident in the development of the well-trained urban search and rescue (USAR) team, following United Nations (UN) International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) guidelines. The experienced and certified Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART) has been deployed both locally and internationally. MERCY Malaysia, a prominent non-government organization (NGO), collaborates closely with the government and plays a vital role in disaster relief efforts globally, working alongside the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the UN. Furthermore, progress has been made in enhancing Malaysia’s early warning systems for floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis, with an expansion of capabilities in detecting and disseminating flood warnings across a wider geographical area.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
Given that Malaysia is not immune to other disasters, the disaster fund for donors in Malaysia should prioritize the following areas:
- Natural Disasters Preparedness and Response: Enhancing capabilities for floods, storms, earthquakes, landslides, and droughts through early warning systems and capacity building.
- Climate Change Adaptation: Allocating funds for projects that improve community and infrastructure resilience to climate-related disasters.
- Community Resilience: Strengthening vulnerable communities’ ability to recover and rebuild after disasters through risk reduction programs and livelihood support.
- Nature-based Solutions: Supporting initiatives like ecosystem restoration and green infrastructure for effective disaster mitigation and adaptation.
- Capacity Building and Training: Providing resources for training disaster management agencies, first responders, and communities to improve preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.
- Data and Technology for Disaster Management: Supporting the development of advanced technologies for risk assessment, early warning systems, and disaster response coordination.
- Recovery and Rehabilitation: Allocating funds for post-disaster efforts to enable affected communities to rebuild sustainably and resiliently.
To ensure effective funding support, donors should collaborate closely with relevant Malaysian government agencies and disaster management authorities while consulting local stakeholders and experts to determine the most impactful and appropriate areas for support.