I visited Padang, Sumatra a few years ago, and later proceeded to Bukit Tinggi in search of my lost relatives whom I have never met, but knew of their existence. My late father had once said to me that my grandfather still has a number of his siblings left in Padang and the Bukit Tinggi region whose inhabitants are predominantly of the Minangkabau clan.
Upon my father's death, the only person to whom I could refer to with regards to my ancestry is my uncle who died several years after my father's death. He did say to me that my grandfather still has a 'Rumah Gadang', literally meaning a 'Grand House' or in our sense, a large family home at a place called Simaung. I never got to Simaung because the people whom I had enquired in Bukit Tinggi knew off the place, but they needed me to be more specific for them to identify exactly where the 'Rumah Gadang' is located. I don't even have the names of my grandfather's siblings and that made the search even more complex.
The news that Padang was struck by a massive earthquake a few days ago, once again reminds me of my lost relatives. And sure enough, I received a call from my brother last night to say that the entire home of a relative of my mother in Padang, who had come to visit her a few years ago, has been badly affected by the earthquake. We do not know if anyone were injured or had lost their lives in the rubble, because the news had been told by some relatives residing in Malaysia, and there is no means that my brother can talk to them.
We Malaysian are indeed a fortunate lot and the only natural calamity hitting us are the floods, landslides and the occasional thunderstorms. There has never been a tornado, an earthquake or a direct impact of the tsunami on a scale that lashed out at Acheh and some coastal areas of Thailand. What we got was only a 'residue' of an earthquake and the tsunami, and that had caused considerable confusion among Malaysians.
A friend of mine who has performed volunteer work in a number of natural disasters and calamities in this country has once said to me that our country deserves a better, more organised and dedicated volunteer force to meet future natural calamities. He claims that the existing government organisations established to handle national disaster situation is haphazard, lacking control and coordination, and appears to be having too many bosses giving too many instructions, and with too little hands to execute the instructions.
It seems that there is an obvious lack of a dedicated central coordinating body to actually monitor, report and make spot decisions and to response quickly to the immediate needs of those affected by the calamity. At the end of the day, each volunteer organisation is left to act on their own, and this results in a disproportionate relief effort that falls short of meeting actual needs. As an example, a place that requires food staffs is handed with too many clothing materials, and where medical support is urgently needed, there is only first aid kit available.
To add to the confusion, political parties with their party flags and posters get into the 'fray', and claims that the support and assistance they provide is in the name of their party. We saw such a thing happened during the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster early this year. It has now become political where the actual needs of those affected people are not properly addressed. It is a kind of an election and popularity gimmick.
Clearly, there is some serious rethinking needed to address the failures so obvious during a disaster relief operations. I suppose there is already an existing national body responsible for national relief operations, but what need to be tightened up is the coordination of responsibilities, method of response, command and control of operations, liaison and possibly a planned prepositioning of support equipments and various immediate logistical needs in identifiable disaster prone areas.
The only way to address the above failures is to conduct periodical exercises and training, both at the state and national levels incorporating all government agencies involved, and including volunteer organisations and NGO's. This can be a costly and difficult affair, but it is only through such exercises and training that can assure success during the conduct of a disaster relief operations.
Disasters knows no limits and does not recognised a friend or a foe. It just destroys everything along its path, and if we are not ready with measures to defend and protect our lives and properties, then it is only us to blame; not the Creator, as some have said and claim it to be.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION