Natural disaster or human interference?

CAP is saddened by the recent landslide in Kampung Sungai Ruil, Cameron Highlands that has claimed seven lives.

Whilst the cause of the landslide that hit the Orang Asli settlement is being investigated by the authorities, there are speculations that a land clearing and earthworks nearby the settlement for a township development by LBS Bina Group Berhad could have contributed to the disaster.

 CAP had in fact alerted the authorities in a letter dated 26 May 2011 regarding the massive earthworks for the development project after receiving complaints from irate tourists and locals.  The Department of Environment had ordered the contractor to carry out slope stabilization and mitigation works as the area was exposed and potential to erode. Could this development project been the catalyst of the disaster in Kampung Sungai Ruil?

Despite the complaints lodged and early warnings, we feel that necessary action was deficient. If the authorities had closely monitored the surroundings of Kampung Sungai Ruil, detected the early signs of slope failure and impending hazard, could the disaster been avoided? The lives lost would surely be in the consciences of those guilty of negligence.

There have been more than 600 deaths due to landslides since 1973. Who is culpable for these deaths? In many instances Mother Nature has been blamed, leaving the real perpetrators scot free.

Taking into cognizance the serious geological hazards that have caused fatalities, injuries, damages and evacuation, the Malaysian government created a National Slope Master Plan (NSMP) 2009-2023 which among other objectives, is to reduce the risks even before landslides occur.

The NSMP states that in Malaysia, from 1973 to 2007, some 440 landslides were reported. In addition there are thousands more ‘unreported’ minor slope failures and landslides. The total economic losses resulting from landslides are estimated to be more than RM3 billion over the past 35 years.

The Malaysian government has a slope master plan, have detailed, comprehensive and effective framework of policies, strategies and action plans to reduce risks from landslides on slopes nationwide.  Are these action plans being effectively and efficiently implemented?

Many of us have observed barren hills, exposed slopes due to earthworks, development and landslides while driving along major roads and highways in the country.  We wonder whether that particular exposed slope would be the next disaster in waiting. We wonder whether the responsible authorities have also observed those landslide prone areas and if action is being taken. Then when a disaster strikes, we know that essential action was not taken.

The devastating impact of rampant development on hills, highlands and forests will continue if the government allows it. Nature has its limits and the consequences of the degradation usually fall heaviest on poor communities and indigenous people.  Without integrating environmental implications, economic development will exhaust its natural basis.

The government, businesses and consumers have to start acting responsibly for our own sake and the sake of our future generations before the momentum of irreversible changes overwhelms us.
Letter to the Editor, 12 August 2011