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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sliding out of disasters

Although a new year has dawned on us, coming to terms with the Dec 6 landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa will not be easy for the aggrieved parties.

There is a need for more cohesive and concrete measures to mitigate the losses and sufferings brought on by such calamities.

Various calls have been made by concerned groups, including members of the public and non-governmental organisations, for proper guidelines on hillslope management to be in place.

With vast tracts of hilly terrain dotting the whole country, Malaysia certainly needs top-notch hillslope management expertise and guidelines to ensure they are properly managed and are sustainably maintained for future generations.

Prudent hillslope management to adhere to slope-safety management and warning system should involve all relevant parties – the local authorities, landowners, developers, and residents. Unsafe slopes must be rectified on a timely and regular basis.

Although landslide-related disasters are not a daily occurence, there is a possibility of more such mishaps and there is simply no time to lose. The sooner we come to terms with the seriousness of the problem and seek ways to address it the better.

The changing weather conditions in the country, prolonged heavy downpours and rampant clearing of land and felling of trees to make way for development, have all contributed to the current deterioration in our hill slopes.

The landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa was not the first time that such a muishap had happened in the country and it would certainly not be the last.

In the last 15 years, there were 13 major landslides in the Hulu Kelang area, of which five were in Bukit Antarabangsa. Studies by the Public Works Department predict that more will occur.

Some say the increasing number of such incidences is Mother Nature’s way of venting its wrath on mankind for failing to take care of the environment.

Chairman of The Hillslope Development Task Force of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) Selangor branch, Datuk Eddy Chen has called for a dedicated federal agency that is empowered to issue and enforce guidelines and standards for hillslope management, approve hillside development and monitor slopes.

Stressing that a blanket ban on all hillslope developments is not a sustainable long-term answer, he said

such a ban will affect many landowners and developers as the provisions for contingency losses will have serious consequences for many public-listed companies.

A survey conducted by Rehda Selangor branch estimated that 4,500 acres of hillside land, valued at about RM1.4bil, are involved.

Besides getting property owners to seek insurance coverage of their property from damages caused by landslides, it is also worth considering the setting up of a special fund where developers of approved hillside developments will make regular contributions based on sales of their projects.

Like the cess contributed by palm oil industry players to ensure the industry’s stability, such a fund will provide financial resources to property industry players for recovery work in the event of any potential disaster or accidents.

If the fund is properly structured, property buyers will also have to pay a nominal contribution to the fund which will be built into the purchase price.

As shown in the massive damage caused by the latest landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa, it will be a small price to pay for developers and property buyers to have such a fund in place for a more orderly recovery scheme for victims of other future development-related mishaps.

To return buyers confidence in the property market and ensure the success of such a fund, industry players should take up the initiative to promote it.

Angie Ng is deputy editor of The Star and she believes that the authorities, industry players and the people have a responsibility to care for the environment and ensure sustainable development.

By The Star

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