‘Brunei must be ready for drought too’

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LegCo member says nation must prepare to face the vagaries of climate change

THE recent bouts of heavy rain, which brought the onslaught of floods and landslides to various parts of the Sultanate, should prepare Bruneian authorities for more unusual weather even of an opposite nature such as droughts, an appointed State Legislative Council Member said yesterday.

In his closing remarks during the fifth session of the council meeting, Dato Paduka Hj Yunos Mohd Noh spoke of the ever-changing climate, which the world has been experiencing due to the effects of global warming.

He recalled that before the recent spate of rainy weather, back in 1997 and 1998, Brunei was not excluded from the adverse effects of climate change, in particular El Nino, as the country saw one of the worst droughts in 30 years. The dry period, which lasted about nine months, sparked bush fires causing haze which forced schools to shut down, the closure of the airport and disrupted daily life.

"In our haste to build facilities in preparation for heavy rains, and concurrently floods and landslides, we should not neglect preparations for the possibility of drought recurring," he said.

Dato Paduka Hj Yunos said that the country should be ready for the impact of drought which include shortage of drinking water, water for irrigation as well as anticipating the occurrence of forest fires.

He proposed that trees should be planted, in areas which are prone to bush fires, so that they can act as fire-breakers.

In light of the heavy rains, Dato Paduka Hj Yunos cited statistics gathered from the Meteorological Service. This January, 708 mm of rain was recorded, triple the amount of average rainfall for the month of January (277 mm) recorded in previous years. On January 26, 2009 alone, 167.6 mm of rainfall was recorded in a single day.

He also stressed how climate change would affect the sea level and how this could affect low-lying areas in Brunei.

He said the sea level was anticipated to rise by 180 mm to 590 mm by the end of the 21st century.

Areas from Lumut to Seria were mostly low-lying, varying from 1.8 metres to two metres, with some as low as 1.4 metres, he pointed out. Considering that the sea level near these areas is 1.33 metres, he noted the small difference in height of these areas compared to the sea level.

With this mind, he questioned why projects were still being conducted in these areas, even with the knowledge that these areas are flood-prone.

He noted the Ministry of Development's plans to address the problem, which were also raised during the State Legislative Council. These projects included introducing a drainage basin spanning 3km by 5km in Seria and a two-metre high embankment along Sg Bera, as well as the re-alignment of Sg Seria.

In light of these projects, he shared some of his own suggestions with the council. They included carrying out new projects at higher, safer locations.

He also suggested that interrupted projects to build dams at rivers should be continued as soon as possible because apart from controlling the flow of water, these dams can also be used to generate hydro-electric power. The appointed council member also spoke of disaster management, where he called for a post-mortem to be carried out following the recent incidents. This was necessary to gauge the effectiveness of the country's response to a natural disaster, so that future plans and preparations can be made accordingly.

In this regard, he proposed that in the event of future natural disasters, safe zones should be allocated, emergency routes and channels to bring aid supplies should be recognised and volunteers should be provided with the proper training so that they can be mobilised when necessary.

The Brunei Times