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Malaysia: To Live By The Slopes

Within the period of two days, two landslides caused much damage and death in Kuala Lumpur. This perhaps might not have made such major headlines had it not occurred just a few days to the 15th anniversary of the Highland Towers tragedy, which caused the deaths of 48 people. Terry wrote on the Highland Towers:

On Saturday, December 11, 1993, at about 1.30 pm, after 10 days of continuous rainfall, a landslide was triggered. Mud slipped into the basements of Block 1 and hence shifting the entire base of the building, hence the entire block collapsed, trapping residents inside. When the rescue operation was called off after days of searching, 48 people were recorded dead. Many countries like Japan and the US sent professionals to help the rescuers here to get trapped victims out from the collapsed rubble. The nation (Malaysia) declared this incident a national tragedy.

Immediately after the collapse of Block 1 the residents of Blocks 2 and 3 were prevented from entering their apartments by the local authority having jurisdiction of the area, the Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ), for fear of the instability of these two buildings. A couple of days later, these occupants were allowed in, in restricted numbers, but only to collect their personal valuables. At that time, even with the presence of the security forces, the apartments were looted. With the eventual passing of time especially when security was reduced and subsequently withdrawn altogether, vandalism became more intense. By 1998, when this court visited the site, every apartment in Blocks 2 and 3 was completely stripped of contents, including fittings leaving only the naked structure.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of www.syahrinaziz.com

The first of the recent landslides occurred at a commercial area where buildings were perched on a hillslope. Jeff, an eyewitness, wrote on his blog:

It happen when I was going through the issues log, suddenly there is a loud noise and the whole building is shaking.

Since I have already noticed the cracks on the road few days ago, I knew in an instance that the road must have collapsed after the heavy rain in the afternoon. *Lucky it didn't fell earlier when I was running by from car park in the heavy rain (else it might scare the hell out of me)*

As usual, everyone is running out from the building to see what have happen, I did the same except I grab along my Ricoh GRDII…

…and that is what I saw…


Image of recent landslide courtesy of Kokstang

Disaster struck again two days later at Bukit Antarabangsa, in the vicinity of the Highland Towers Tragedy, in a residential area. This time, the landslide killed at least four people, with seven missing on the first day, 15 injured, 14 bungalows destroyed and 4,000 people evacuated from the area.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of www.syahrinaziz.com

The Lifeballade blog had this post:

Do they learn what had happened in 1993?? Highland Tower collapsed and many [sic] died [sic] when this collapsed, children, adults, old people.

What have the developers had done for all these years?? With this accident, don’t they still choose not to believe this is our earth calling for help?

My heart shrunk when I saw the piece of news where the husband uses his bare hands to dig the earth to find his wife. The wife managed to save all her children, but she was not able to get out from it, and was buried alive.

Why were developers built those houses near the hill?
Why were those hill cutting projects approved?
Why none of these people understand the greenery is important to our earth?

malaysia
Image of recent landslide courtesy of Edreenchenart

State assemblywoman, Elizabeth Wong, wrote on her blog:

One of the earliest policy decision made by the new Selangor state govt of Pakatan Rakyat was to throw out any housing and building applications on Class 3 and Class 4 hillslopes, in order to preserve environmentally sensitive areas and prevent the recurrence of landslides. This was decided on April 2, 2008 Executive Council meeting.

Selangor became the first and only state in the Federation to have complied with the Federal Town and Country Planning Department’s “Total Planning Guidelines” 1997 (2nd edition, 2001) which states that no housing development should be allowed on 25 degrees and above gradient slopes.

Developers thought it was a late April Fool’s joke. Since our ban, they have used all means – the media, blogs, lobbying of ADUNs and MPs etc. to change of our minds. We were labelled and villified as “anti-business” and “anti-development”. I have even had some of our Pakatan MPs asking us to make exceptions for Class 3.

And every couple of months, we have to repeat our policy decision again. Even as recent as last month, developers were insisting that they had the right to develop hillslopes and some had told a couple of ExCo members that they were planning to sue us. One of them said we would have to compensate them RM 330 million (25% of our state budget) of possible loss of profits. Imagine the pressure of a lobby group whose combined income and assets dwarfs the state government.

Saturday’s tragedy proves the correctness of the decision of the state government. But vindication which comes after loss of 4 lives and more homes is unspeakably bitter. There are some 5,000 residents living within the vicinity of the landslide who face uncertainty and possibly have to vacate their houses.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of Kokstang

In response to this, Johnny Ong wrote on his blog:

Lobby? Who are this group of lobbyists? Even Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak quoted the same word. He mentioned this – “calls on developers not to lobby or pressure the Government for any building permits for hillside development.”

Anyway, both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were cohesive on this – government will not be issuing any more permits for hillside developments.

However, the Prime Minister said something that was half correct – “But Malaysians never want to learn from past experiences, they want a good view (scenery) while developers only seek to profit but no one takes safety and soil stability into consideration.”

Malaysians who purchased properties had expected the property developers to have gotten proper licences and approvals, after having submitted the development plans / soil studies / drainage and irrigation planning, from the relevant federal and state government agencies. You can't say that the purchasers are partly to be blamed for willing to buy up the properties.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of www.syahrinaziz.com

Meanwhile, SC Watch comments on the recent tragedies:

First, it happened in Ulu Yam, just on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur killing two young girls. Then it happened in the city, right between the buildings occupied by our foremost investment bank, CIMB (fortunately no casualties). And the latest taking place at the suburb called Bukit Antarabangsa or International Heights (todate 4 dead).

The latest trajedy at Bukit Antarabangsa is not very far from the more infamous one at Highland Towers, where just under 50 lives were lost in 1993. I remember a few years later, then PM Mahathir noticed blatant clearing of hill-side areas whilst travelling in a helicopter over the same Bukit Antarabangsa area and ordering a stop to those clearing ……. but the development still carried on subsequently …. after taking “certain precautionary measures” on the part of the developers.

It is so ironic that only when lives are lost, properties damaged, thousands of people displaced that the government decides that enough is enough.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of Kokstang

Gan Vin Tsen adds:

So now Bukit Antarabangsa and the surrounding area have been classified as the “dangerous belt”, for real this time. Oh, so it's only seriously declared as the “danger zone” after the 3rd bloody time something severe like this happened.

The Highland Tower tragedy that killed 40 odd innocent lives weren't enough to make this place the “danger zone”? Landslides after landslides for the past few years still weren't enough for the government to take action?

I've just found out that this area was being labelled as one of the hazardous area near town by researchers, years ago may I add. But it was ignored, no actions were taken, development still carried on like nobody's business.

Highways, condominiums, bungalows etc. Nothing can slow down, moreover stop these life-threatening development around Bukit Antarabangsa. Nobody cared about the “researches”. Not the developer, nor the government.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of www.syahrinaziz.com

But not everyone blames the developers or the government. The Paddle Planet Pedal comments:

Many people hold the view that Malaysia should have a large population to create a critical mass of consumers to energize the economy. This puts pressure on many sectors such as crime rates, rising prices, demand for housing, the destruction to the environment and the rapid if not rabid urban sprawl.

This has a direct meaning on the landslide incident. Population and housing pressure pushes developers to look for new sites to build more dwellings. One victim is land which was previously trees and hills. They are cut down and terraced to be turned into housing estates.

Although, it must be said that it is not clear if this commentary is in all seriousness or tongue-in-cheek.

The developers’ names have not been highlighted, and mainstream press have not highlighted any press announcements made by the developer(s) in question. Zorro Unmasked proposes:

Let the onus of proof on safety of hillside development be fully with the developer. Let town planners not compromise on any development to fatten the profits of developers


Image of recent landslide courtesy of Kokstang

Bloggers also are disillusioned by the authorities assurances on future hillside developments. The Malaysian writes:

As a people, Malaysians must be sick and tired of the government's assurances every time such a tragedy occurs. After a short period of mourning it is back to business as usual – The MBs keep enriching themselves by influencing the doling out of permits and the local authority bigwigs keep filling their private coffers by allowing development wherever the developer wants, as long as they pay the considerable bribes. One feels such a sense of helplessness amidst all the corruption and unwillingness of the government to at least do something about it. Terrible

Furthermore, bloggers are questioning current hillside development. Tathsing writes:

Nearer home in the District of Penampang, we have seen a number of hillside development. Are these slopes stable and sustainable unlike the slope in Bukit Antarabangsa?

I pray that we don’t have to sacrifice some lives back home here before the local authority and government sit up and notice properly these approved developments.

Meanwhile, power has been restored to the area, and the SPCA and volunteers have searched for missing or abandoned pets. The death toll reported is four, with one missing. Many people are still trapped in their homes in the affected area.


Image of recent landslide courtesy of www.syahrinaziz.com

A geotechnical engineer was reported to have said that an abandoned development of double-storey houses might have caused the landslide. The report stated that as the site was not completed, and with there being no maintenance of the site, the slopes might have caused the buildings to collapse, causing the landslide.

The Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, has issued a stop-work order on all current hillside development projects. While state governments in three other Malaysian states have frozen highland projects.

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