Malaysia’s Flood Catastrophes: Examining the Past, Learning from the Present, and Changing the Future



About the Seminar

Floods have been Malaysia’s most frequent environmental disaster. Both natural and human causes are responsible for recurrent flooding and their accompanying tolls on human populations and physical landscapes. Despite billions of ringgit having been expended by the Malaysian government on flood management measures in recent decades, inundations appear to have increased in occurrence and severity. Based on current trajectories, recent estimates project that a quarter of Malaysia’s population may be displaced by environmental catastrophes by 2030, primarily of the flood-based kind. Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods to examine cases from the early twentieth century until the present day, this seminar focuses on three overarching issues. First, we analyse overlaps and continuities in old and new flooding episodes in Malaysia. Second, we examine the underlying reasons behind repeated floods across Malaysia, including major urban areas such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Third, we discuss more constructive approaches to contemporary flood management, especially through holistic strategies that emphasise increased collaboration and resource-sharing between government agencies, the private sector, NGOs, and the general public.

About the Speakers

Fiona Clare Williamson is Assistant Professor in Science, Technology and Society at Singapore Management University. She is an environmental historian working on intersections between climate & urban society in colonial Singapore and Hong Kong, and has a particular interest in how climate has shaped cities and urban inhabitants lives. She also works on the history of meteorological science and has undertaken several studies on the burgeoning meteorological services of British Malaya and Hong Kong during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is currently engaged on a variety of multi-disciplinary projects, including the history of urban heat, historical nature-induced disasters and climate change in Asia.

Ngai Weng Chan is Professor of Water Resources Management at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia. He is active in lecturing, research and publication, NGO work and consulting in the field of Hydrology, Climatology, Environment and Water Resources Studies. He has more than 40 years teaching experience, and has taught as a Visiting Professor at the Asian Institute of Technology (2006/2007), the University of Memphis, USA (2000/2001) and Yokohama City University (2014-2017). He was previously a Vice-President of the International Water Resources Association (2013-2015), and a Member of International Association of Hydrological Sciences, International Water Association and Association of American Geographers (2001-Present). He is active in civil society work related to water resources management, being President of Water Watch Penang (WWP) (1997-Present), Treasurer of Malaysian Environmental NGOs (2014-2016) and a member of Malaysian Water Partnership and Malaysian Water Association. He has completed more than 100 research/consultancy/community projects and published 29 Books, 98 Chapters in Books, and more than 100 professional papers in academic journals. He is often nicknamed “Malaysia’s Waterman”.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 9 November 2018.


Nov 12 2018


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2