Disaster Waiting to Happen

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It came as no surprise when Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and part of the Menglembu Light Industrial area were inundated by muddy water. Residents living in these affected areas got a rude shock when they woke up early on the morning of Friday, March 1 to see water gushing into their houses. It happened so fast that most could only escape with their lives and the clothes on their backs. Their belongings, and the precious little they owned, had to be abandoned. The flooding and the ensuing mudslide were caused by heavy rain that fell for two continuous days.

The root cause can be easily traced to the massive development currently taking place at the foothills and on slopes of the Kledang Range. Since Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and the Menglembu Light Industrial area are adjacent to the project site, disaster was, literally, waiting to happen, and it happened.

Editor's DeskThe site covers an area of about 24 ha. It is being developed as a multi-million ringgit project known locally as the SEGi Enclave. According to iProperty.com, a leading property website in the country, SEGi Enclave is described as, “Ipoh’s first integrated university college township. The enclave consists of shop-offices, apartments, gated and guarded high-end condos and luxury semi-dees and bungalows”.

Prices of houses and condos, claims the website, range between RM250,000 to RM1.5 million. The SEGi University College campus will be located here. Once completed it will rival the UTAR Campus in Kampar in size. The property is being developed by Ipoh-based Energiser Properties Sdn Bhd.

Mudslides and landslides are not something new in Malaysia. Lives lost caused by landslides taking down apartment blocks and houses have happened before and will continue to happen. Some say it is an act of God. I beg to differ. God has nothing to do with these man-made disasters. They all have one common trait – greed. It is greed of the human kind, plain and simple.

Editor's DeskThe Highland Towers tragedy of 1993 is still fresh in our minds. It took place on December 11, 1993 at Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor. The collapse of Block One of the apartments took the lives of 48 innocent people. Residents from two other blocks had to be evacuated for safety reasons. A lengthy legal battle ensued with no conclusive results in sight.

Nine years after the incident in November 2002, a bungalow belonging to former Armed Forces Chief, General (Rtd) Tan Sri Ismail Omar collapsed due to a landslide. His house was located metres away from the ill-fated towers. Ismail lost his wife.

The fate of Highland Towers is sealed for good. Today the three towers are in complete disarray, stripped of contents and dignity in its entirety, the towers are left to rot in the unforgiving tropical sun.

The primary cause of the Highland Towers collapse was structural failure. The development of Bukit Antarabangsa, a housing project on the hilltop behind the Towers in 1991 was the catalyst. The hill was cleared of trees and undergrowth thus exposing the soil to erosion that eventuated in the landslide.

Fortunately, the mudslide at the foothills of the Kledang Range on Friday, March 1 did not result in any death. However, over a thousand residents had the fright of their lives. Death must have stared them in the eyes, but due to quick thinking a major tragedy was averted. This goes to show Ipohites’ resilience, per se, but to what extent? I believe something of the equivalent of the Highland Towers tragedy would have a numbing impact on our conscience.

Mayor Roshidi Hashim was miffed by the attitude of those responsible for developing the project. Ipoh City Council’s warnings had gone unheeded. “It’s difficult to make people understand the severity of their actions,” he remarked.

The Council had come under severe criticism for allowing the project to continue although danger signs were already visible and complaints made. A warning, apparently, was issued to the developer in November 2012 for failing to comply with the Council’s regulations. Why was the warning ignored is anybody’s guess.

“The Council’s role as a facilitator has not been taken seriously,” said a dejected Roshidi.

The developer has undertaken the responsibility of clearing the mess, a plus point by all means. A report on the incident will be presented to the state government by Ipoh City Council. It should be ready by March 18, hopefully.

4 thoughts on “Disaster Waiting to Happen

  1. Have there not been enough lessons for authorities, professional engineers, and contractors to realise the consequences of their actions. Whether in apprvoal for development, design and performance liability, and construction to local environmental constraints.

    Are there so few that are willing to practice their trade with some sense of pride of quality and safety, rather than pride in raking in the profit.

    I wonder why it is so difficult to learn this. Many study for many years to attain some form of education. So they can learn !!! Armed with these pieces of paper, and with an even healthier dose of pride proceed to make decisions that do not make any sense. Behavioural characteristics of soil, especially hillslopes have been studied far and wide and is part of the curriculum of engineering studies and is so well documented – even better now after the recent historical failures of highland towers et al.

    Why then, do practioners of the trade create such a mess of their training and lives of the people. I actually have more questions than answers, because I know what it is that needs to be done to avoid or at least reduce the chances of catastrophies like this happening. So what is it ? Attitudes ? Is there an answer to this ? Will there be timely improvement, for the proposed University ? A centre of learning ? Are universities not teaching the right stuff ?? What ? This is so very sad, especially for the profession of engineers.

  2. In every development, an erosion control report prepared by the civil and structural consultant must be submitted by the developer to the local council. This report contains erosion assessment and measures to be taken to control erosion. The contractor must implement all the measures contained in the report. Work on site can’t start until the local council gives approval. Certain developments may even require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report.

    When an incident like this happen, the local council will point finger at the developer, who will point to the consultant, who will point to the contractor, who will say that they have carried out all the measures required of them. They may say that the measures were insufficient and point back to the consultant, who will say that the local council gave their approval for the measures. The finger pointing never ends.

  3. Fathol has given a good writeup and has taken the readers way back to the Highland Towers tragedy of 1993. But till today the Councils in various States have not come up with strict observation of laws and regulations of raping hill slopes.
    In the recent land slide at Taman Kledang Permai and its surrounding areas, I wonder who is to be taken to task. Of course not the Developer. He would not have carried out the project if not for the approval of MBI. Enforcement by MBI has to be carried out with strict attitude and not with closing one eye and shutting the other.
    The Chief Executive of Perak State is also responsible for the land slide. His men must report to him when slopes are cut and investigate, what will be the consequences of any eventualities. I believe that it is the lackadaisical attitude of the departments involved in carrying out the paid jobs. They should buck up and I mean BUCK UP from the Chief Executive of the State to the Council Mayor and his Team.

  4. There needs to be an enforcer. If it is not by the Council, then another party, with sufficient check and balance. Issuance of warnings is well and fine but with greed and money to be made, without an above board enforcer, will anyone bother?

    I hope this will be a lesson to all the developers in the area, and that purchasers will stay away from these development until the developers are able to show substantial prove that remedial measures have been taken.

    And let this be a warning to all purchasers too, in all other areas. The amount of development in all areas of Perak is horrifying!

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