In what the Malaysian government is calling the worst flooding in more than 30 years, five people have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced across five east coast states.
On Friday, the 10-year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that caused widespread devastation and killed a quarter of a million people in Southeast Asia, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was cutting short his U.S. vacation to oversee flood response. Najib had previously come under fire after he was photographed golfing with President Barack Obama in Hawaii while the situation progressively worsened back at home.
“I’m deeply concerned by the floods and am returning to see the situation for myself. My thoughts and prayers are with all who are suffering,” Najib said in posts on Facebook and Twitter on Friday.
The Malaysian government said additional response equipment, including helicopters, boats and land vehicles, would be deployed on Friday. The number of people displaced thus far surpasses the previous record of 100,000 people evacuated during flooding in 2008, according to the Straits Times.
While heavy rain and floods are nothing new for Malaysians, the flooded areas have been hit with “unusually strong torrential rain,” the Associated Press reported, which the country’s meteorological agency predicted will continue until the weekend, spreading into previously unaffected areas.
After a heavy round of rain and flooding in October, Chow Kon Yeow, executive councillor for local government, traffic management and flood mitigation in the Malaysian state of Penang, connected the intensity to climate change. Chow said that the region received more than a month’s worth of rain in a single night, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Some areas that have never seen floods got flooded,” he said.
As temperatures rise, the warmer air holds more moisture, which increases the probability of heavy rain and flooding events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that the average temperature in Malaysia will likely rise 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century as the result of climate change and precipitation events will become more intense.
Heavy rain and flooding are just a few of the impacts facing Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia as climate change continues to accelerate. A report released by the World Bank last year found that “countries in the South East Asia region are particularly vulnerable to the sea-level rise, increases in heat extremes, increased intensity of tropical cyclones, and ocean warming and acidification because many are archipelagoes located within a tropical cyclone belt and have relatively high coastal population densities.”
This week’s severe rain and flooding hasn’t been limited to Malaysia, either. In Sri Lanka, “officials said at least nine people were killed in mudslides triggered by heavy rains in the country’s central hills Friday,” USA Today reported. “More than 60,000 people were evacuated and 3,000 homes destroyed in the last four days, disaster officials said.”