Rebuilding bridges and mindsets

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
MY VIEW - The Sun Daily
January 14, 2015

TWO weeks into the new year, Malaysians are still drowning in sorrow while the flood slowly recedes bearing the toll of the worst disaster yet to hit the country. Though compared to the tsunami that swept over Aceh a decade ago, we still have a lot to be thankful for, it is a painful tragedy nevertheless. And it is still far from over.

There is still the massive clean-up, counting the cost of business losses and repairs to damaged buildings and property. Not to mention the trauma of losing loved ones. But these are the grim stories associated with all disasters.

No doubt that this is a wake-up call for all of us for taking things so easy for too long, at times carelessly so.

It was barely a month ago that Cameron Highlands was top news with reports of horrendous devastation. Despite years of warnings and reports of the looming environmental disaster nothing substantial was done other than point fingers.

That a renowned hill system was left almost unattended at the mercy of the unscrupulous speaks volumes of how caring we are as a nation to the lush environment that enriches our lives.

Cameron Highlands may not be able to strike back, but the recent flooding is no less a vengeance of some kind given the characteristic muddy water typically associated with major landslides and soil erosion. Although it happened elsewhere, remember nature is interconnected and maintains a fine balance.

By upsetting this balance there is always a huge price to pay although it may not be instantaneous. Like the climate change that we are experiencing today, the natural disasters could be traced to wanton anthropocentric arrogance over centuries following the industrial age.

In short, even if we break the cycle today we will not see dividends immediately; we still need to pay for our ecological “sins” of the past. To make it worst, old habits (and perceptions) die hard. While Malaysia has always assumed that she will be well protected from major calamities, this seems to be gradually changing.

Hence, 2015 must be a turning point; especially when Vision 2020 is itself environmentally blind.

Perhaps the query raised by the works minister as to why several “permanent” bridges in the country failed during December’s flooding is a good place to begin.

Why indeed should something that is meant to be “permanent” can no longer stand the test of time?

This is a question that goes far beyond the physical bridgeworks into the realm of mental bridges that we have built over the years to define the social fabric of this nation. They too seemed to have been swept away by a kind of “muddy” and catastrophic thinking long before the tragedy of the recent deluge was recognised as a “major catastrophe”.

To quote Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof: “We need to look at new designs for the bridges as the severity of natural disasters in the country has increased. We will need to see the bridges’ durability and improve the designs.”

Let us extend this to the mental bridges as well, not just the physical ones. After all the human mind is the basic foundation that bridges humanity and the current reality. Shaped and imprisoned by the “designs” of the past, the mindset of yesteryears is unable to break away from what it has been used to. When the current reality changes in “severity” the mental bridgeworks too will experience a similar breakdown and turn dysfunctional. In the same way a more robust mental bridge design is required for the future.

It is in this context that we must applaud the collaboration between the federal government and the Kelantan state government to bridge a new partnership in the interest of the people.

Hopefully this collaboration will extend beyond just ecological catastrophe to include other forms of “catastrophes” that degrade human dignity and sustainable living.

To think that the receding flood is an indication of normalcy is myopic. Both the physical and mental bridges need to be redesigned and reconstructed to withstand the more brutal challenges of the future.

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that another world is possible. Comments: