Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ban Hillside Development - Talk Only of Bolehland

History repeats. Very true. But how many would want to learn from history? None. Not if the Barisan Najis is still the government. We must change the present government to a responsible one - that walk the talk!

Lessons from Highland Towers lie buried in Bukit Antarabangsa rubble
6 December 2008
By Baradan Kuppusamy
Source: The Malaysian Insider

DEC 6 — One of the first actions the government took when Highland Towers collapsed in 1993, killing 48 people, was to announce a ban on hillside development.

Today the government announced another ban on hillside development following the tragedy in Bukit Antarabangsa where at least four people are dead, many injured and nearly 5,000 evacuated and a large upscale housing area declared a disaster zone.

This latest tragedy happened about a kilometre from the Highland Towers disaster that struck 15 years ago almost to the day.

In between the intervening years hillside development has been taking place and at an alarming rate despite the tragedies. Every November/December when heavy rains start, landslides happen and policymakers usually passed off the tragedies as an "act of God".

The forgotten lessons of the the Highland Towers tragedy, if complied with, would have saved many lives.

The official inquiry that followed and the drawn-out court case over the Highland Tower tragedy highlighted the failure of the local authorities to control indiscriminate hillside development.

It also fingered hillside development laws that were rudimentary at best and worst, the Federal Court held in 2006 that local councils were not liable for damage caused by landslides and collapses — virtually giving local councils total immunity against negligence suits.

The court found that the specific causes of the collapse were damage done by water that was diverted by another development project up the hill and which flowed behind the Highland Tower blocks.

The same reasons can be expected for the Jalan Damansara landslide yesterday and today's tragedy at Bukit Antarabangsa — damage done by uncontrolled, unmanaged water flow and rudimentary retaining walls unable to bear the sudden increase in load — mud, boulders, debris — that were loosen by water.

The Federal Court in the Highland Towers tragedy noted the same cause and effect, saying "an extensive area of land was denuded of trees and water flowed over this area carrying eroded soil, silt. These caused or contributed to the collapse of Block 1 of the Highland Towers."

But the lessons are not learnt and the tragedy is repeated, said lawyers involved with the Highland Towers case.

"People, policymakers, local authorities and developers did not learn the lessons," said a retired lawyer who was briefly involved in the case. "The reason is the huge profit that is to be made."

"The profit in upscale hillside development is enormous all round and everybody — officials, developers and lawyers — are willing to close an eye," he said.

"The structures look strong and they are strong but unless you manage the surrounding area of a hill and control all the development activities, damage would be done over time leading to a tragedy," the lawyer said.

"A hill is a holistic structure… you cannot develop one side and ignore the other sides. Geologically, everything is inter-connected on a hill," he said.

The shocking part of the Highland Towers tragedy is that local councils were absolved for their failures and held not liable for losses suffered by anyone should a building collapse.

Coming as it does from the Federal Court, the matter is decided unless it is reviewed by the same court. As such the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council then and now is absolved and not liable because the decision still stands.

In the Highland Towers case the council was held not liable for losses suffered by the 73 residents of Block 2 and 3 and in the deaths of the 48 when Block 1 collapsed.

The 2-1 ruling held that local authorities like MPAJ were given full immunity under Section 95 (2) of the Street, Drainage & Building Act 1974 (Act 133) from claims for the pre-collapse period.

The majority decision delivered by Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad said that if the local councils were made liable, it would open the floodgates to further claims for economic loss, and this would deplete the council's resources meant for the provision of basic services and infrastructure.

He held that it was unfair for rate payers' funds to be used to pay negligent suits.

"In my view, the provision of basic necessities for the general public has priority over compensation for pure economic loss of some individuals, who are clearly better off than the majority of the residents in the local council area," he said.


December 6, 2008
Be prepared for more landslides, warns environmentalist

KUALA LUMPUR: The authorities should be on alert to take remedial measures as more landslides are expected during this rainy season, an environmentalist cautioned.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development chairman Gurmit Singh told Bernama that landslides were common occurrences in Malaysia and most of them could easily be avoided if professionals, developers and civil servants were responsible enough to carry out their duties with care and diligence.

He was commenting on the massive landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa which had claimed three lives as of 3pm Saturday.

He said following the collapse of the Highlands Towers in the vicinity in 1993, which took 48 lives, the authorities had decided not to approve anymore hill slope development projects.

He said that unless all those involved in the development, including the authorities, engineers, architects, surveyors and developers, took their responsibilities seriously, such incidents would continue to occur.

Meanwhile, president of the Bukit Bandaraya Houseowners Association Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman said the Damansara area was also prone to landslides.

The latest incident was on Thursday when the retaining wall behind the CIMB Commerce Square and the CIMB Amanah building building in Damansara collapsed following a landslide which buried 11 vehicles at the parking lot.

Abdul Aziz, a practising lawyer and former managing director of national carrier MAS, said his association had alerted the City Hall on the water seepage in the area but no immediate action was taken. - Bernama


A price paid with death
07 December 2008
Source: The Malaysian Insider

DEC 7 - Pricey plots of land for priceless views equals profits for the developers.

If that is not a good reason enough to develop hill sides, denude the land and damage the delicate balance of nature, what else could it be?

The Bukit Antarabangsa landslide is the third such incident in a week in the Klang Valley, where death and destruction is followed by a deluge and dirge of headlines and comments to prevent the future wrath of Mother Nature.

Four deaths in Bukit Antarabangsa. Two in Ulu Yam Perdana. Forty-eight in Highland Towers. That is the price paid for digging at the hillsides of the Klang Valley over the years.

We heard it 15 years ago. We heard it through the years. We hear it now. We will hear more in the future.

In the past 24 hours, many have repeated what they said over the years.

Among them, environmentalist Gurmit Singh saying landslides were common occurrences in Malaysia and most of them could easily be avoided if engineers, architects, surveyors, developers and civil servants carried out their duties with care and responsibility.

He said following the Highlands Towers collapse, which took 48 lives in 1993, authorities had decided to bar hill slope development.

Meanwhile, local government expert and lawyer Derek Fernandez predicted many more landslides in the Klang Valley.

"Overdevelopment and the inability of the infrastructure to cater for environmental changes and gross neglect in providing proper drainage systems for the area are probable causes of the landslide," he said.

Predictably, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ordered a stop to all hillside housing projects in the Bukit Antarabangsa area.

And Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has called on developers not to lobby or pressure the Government for any building permits for hillside development.

"Clearly, the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago have not been learnt by anyone, least of all the various government agencies, whether at the federal, state or local government level," said DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang, who also predictably called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the latest landslide.

Everyone will wring their hands and lament the tragedy as the victims try to rebuild their lives from the rubble and mud of Bukit Antarabangsa while the others bury their dead extricated from the premature tomb of their once-standing hillside houses.

There will be soul-searching by all and sundry. There will be investigations and recommendations.

And promises of a safer future, better laws and definitely no more hillside developments.

And once all is said and done, the excavators and tractors now clearing the tonnes of earth, mud, rubble of brick and stone will finish their job in Bukit Antarabangsa.

Only to move on to another site and dig up new plots of hillside homes for those hankering for prized views of the Kuala Lumpur metropolis.

Despite all the deaths and destruction over the years, developers are still willing to profit from those willing to pay a price for priceless views in these exlcusive homes.

For them, death is just a possible cost. Tell that to the four who lost their lives, and their families who lost loved ones.

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