Sunday, December 14, 2008

...howwwzattt... when nature speaks...

Nowadays, I've stopped buying any of those mainstream newspapers. The reason why, I hate seeing intelligent beings licking their master's balls just to save their own asses in keeping their position, power or whatever greed that've been planted inside them.

When mention of Taiping or Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill), there's this kind of sentimental feeling crept inside me. So, here is a piece by one of the NST journalist relating Bukit Larut against the calamity recently befell those people that live in Bukit Antarabangsa.

Past present with A. Kathirasen

(NST) THOSE who have travelled the tortuous road up Bukit Larut, or Maxwell Hill, in Taiping, would, like me, have wondered why the British colonialists had built such a tiny road.

At several turns, one jeep has to hunker over the edge of the narrow strip to allow another jeep to pass. And yes, only jeeps are allowed up.

Only much later did I learn the reason for this: it was so designed to allow minimal cuts along the slopes so as to reduce erosion, and therefore, landslides.

Would I be amiss in suggesting that today's engineers and builders, or at least some of them, have not learnt this lesson? According to geotechnical engineer Dr Gue See Sew most of the major landslides in the country are due to errors in design and construction.

Of course I wouldn't go to the extent of saying engineers and builders in the past were more professional or less susceptible to the demands of developers. I wouldn't want to impute greed as a factor that drives developers to cut down hillslopes to build residences. I wouldn't want to insinuate that some government officials involved in the approval or inspection of these sites might be incompetent or corrupt. Neither would I want to theorise that perhaps some of those buying properties on hills or hillslopes have a secret desire to feel taller than their fellow citizens.

Certainly, there are many factors that precipitate a landslide. The type of soil and the steepness of the terrain are key factors. The intensity of rainfall too. It does not take a scientist to conclude that in a country with plenty of rainfall, the danger of erosion is inherent in hilly terrain.

That is why a smile spread across my face when I read the statement by Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan ascribing the landslide at Bukit Antarabangsa on Dec 6, which took four lives, to natural factors as it had been raining prior to the incident. There was, he declared, no clear proof of human negligence.

It brought to mind similar statements issued by government leaders over the years.

For instance, after landslides on Genting Highlands on June 30, 1995 killed 20 people, the then Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu was reported as saying it was due to "natural causes". Granted, erosion is a natural occurrence. But doesn't land clearing to construct buildings accelerate erosion? Doesn't such human activity weaken the earth?

After every major landslide over the years, the government, assuming a stentorian tone, has issued stop-work orders or temporarily frozen hillslope development. It was no different this time.

This too is rather amusing. For, it has been our experience that, after a few months, when public attention shifts to some other calamity or issue, development work almost always resumes.

Developers, buyers, approving agencies and state governments have not learnt from the the 455 landslides that have occurred since 1961, including the Highland Towers tragedy in 1993 which claimed 48 lives. The problem, as in most other areas, is not a lack of guidelines or laws. It is the lack of a culture of accepting responsibility. It is a lack of enforcement. And it is the lack of a maintenance culture. I wonder if menteris besar and state executive councillors would be more cautious in approving projects if they are held accountable for such tragedies.

I wonder if engineers, architects and approving and inspecting officials at local government-level would be more diligent if they are held liable.

One thing is certain: as long as there is demand for houses on hillslopes, there will be developers willing to build them. Perhaps the time has come to make hillslope development requirements so rigorous that the expenses incurred will discourage such development.In the meantime, the authorities should ensure maintenance work is carried out on the country's 19,000 slopes. This includes Bukit Larut, of course.

Nightmares on the hill slopes
Houses constructed without proper care and control
When nature takes a cough
Disaster fall lives loss
Properties, sorrows and tears
Now who is to blame?
Finger pointing it never ends
Why buy into a death trip?
Don’t we have enough of it?
Nice view fresh air
Greed of class people live to hear
Along the streets
Surely prosperous already
Yet it is worth it?
When lives can be lost
When nature struggles to balance it
When man destroys it blatantly
On history we forget15 years ago tragedy killed 48 people
On hill side developments
Now in between we read about it
Yet government approves
Of business profits and greed
Now do we really learn?
Don’t buy hilly properties
No matter what developers say?
Just think about lives
Living precariously never knowing when
Nature will strike and teach us lesson

Taken from Caravanserai...