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Malaysian Catholics rush aid to victims of flooding, mudslide

Experts blame indiscriminate destruction of the natural environment for disastrous flooding in Sabah state

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: September 27, 2021 06:31 AM GMT

Updated: September 27, 2021 07:16 AM GMT

Malaysian Catholics rush aid to victims of flooding, mudslide

A villager in Sugud sits in front her house devastated by recent flooding and a mudslide. (Photo: Catholic Sabah)

A Catholic parish and church groups have been rushing aid to villagers affected by disastrous flooding and a mudslide in the Malaysian state of Sabah.

Heavy monsoon rain triggered an overflow of the Sugud River that caused flooding and a mudslide in the low-lying Kampung Sugud area on Sept. 15 just ahead of Malaysia Day, the national day of the country, media reports said.

The disaster affected about 3,000 people in villages, leaving hundreds of houses destroyed while water supply and electricity were disrupted.

Sabah state chief minister Hajiji Noor visited the affected areas on Sept. 21 and promised to offer 1,000 ringgit (US$239) as emergency cash assistance for each victim. He also promised to rebuild destroyed houses and announced the hastening of a project of 9 million ringgit ($2.15 million) for flood mitigation covering 1.13 kilometers of the Sugud River to prevent another disaster.

Many victims have reportedly been living in desperation without aid.

In response, volunteers from the Assumption of Our Lady Sugud Church have packed and delivered relief materials including rice bags, mineral water, food baskets, cleaning tools, wheelbarrows, basic kitchen utensils, mattresses and pillows, reports Catholic Sabah, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu.

Villagers sit under their makeshift sheds, dazed and grieving for their losses, wondering how they are going to get back to normalcy

The under-construction parish hall has become a coordination center for humanitarian efforts, with volunteers serving to package and deliver aid around the clock.

The response from various groups has been overwhelming, said Jinilis Ebol, on aid organizer from the Sugud Catholic Community Committee.

It was challenging to distribute aid to the affected areas due to mud everywhere and roads being cut off, which means only four-wheeled vehicles can be used, he added.  

The parish received aid packages from various church groups and NGOs including Mercy Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese, individuals, business enterprises, charities, other Christian denominations and parish-based aid groups such as Caritas.

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Franciscan nun Sister Clarice Jomitin sent an emergency appeal to help villagers stranded by flooding on Sept. 22, prompting the Light of Jesus Covenant Community to jump in with aid.

Agnes Chai, a Catholic Sabah reporter who visited the affected area, said it would take a long time for affected communities to return to a life of normalcy.

“From house to house, or whatever the remaining parts of it, villagers sit under their makeshift sheds, dazed and grieving for their losses, wondering how they are going to get back to normalcy. The immediate future looks bleak,” Chai wrote.

Experts have blamed indiscriminate destruction of the natural environment and the clearing of forests for industrial purposes for such “unnatural and unprecedented disaster.”

“The flooding in Sugud was an unnatural one. The cleared forested area for plantation upriver could have made the soil more susceptible to erosion, and thus make the problem worse for those living near the Sugud catchment area,” geologist Felix Tongkul told The Vibes on Sept. 20.  

“The unusual volume of rain made the Sugud catchment area supersaturated with water, causing the soil to lose strength and prone to slope failure, producing numerous landslides.” 

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