Goodbye, Silicon Valley


Greener pastures: Wang at his company’s headquarters in Shanghai. The successful Silicon Valley alumni was lured
back to China by the promise of a brighter future.

Chinese-born talents are abandoning California for riches back home with the rise of China’s new titans.

A FEW years ago, Wang Yi was living the American dream. He had graduated from Princeton, landed a job at Google and bought a spacious condo in Silicon Valley.

But one day in 2011, he sat his wife down at the kitchen table and told her he wanted to move back to China. He was bored working as a product manager for the search giant and felt the pull of starting his own company in their homeland.

It wasn’t easy persuading her to abandon balmy California for smog-choked Shanghai.

“We’d just discovered she was pregnant,” said Wang, now 37, recalling hours spent pacing their apartment. “It was a very uneasy few weeks before we made our decision, but in the end she came around.”

His bet paid off: his popular English teaching app Liulishuo or LingoChamp raised US$100mil (RM397mil) in July, putting him in the growing ranks of successful Silicon Valley alumni lured back to China by the promise of a brighter future. His decision is emblematic of an unprecedented trend with disquieting implications for Valley stalwarts from Facebook Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Google.

US-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies’ global expansion and the country’s efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate towards career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research.

“More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area,” said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice.

“This is only the beginning.” Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there’s a term for them – “sea turtles”. But while a job at a US tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies – from giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao – are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc – a search giant little-known outside of China – convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s coming-out party was a catalyst. The e-commerce giant pulled off the world’s largest initial public offering in 2014 – a record that stands – to drive home the scale and inventiveness of the country’s corporations.

Alibaba and Tencent now count among the 10 most valuable companies in the world, in the ranks of Amazon.com Inc and Facebook.

Chinese venture capital rivals the United States: three of the world’s five most valuable startups are based in Beijing, not California.

Tech has supplanted finance as the biggest draw for overseas Chinese returnees, accounting for 15.5% of all who go home, according to a 2017 survey of 1,821 people conducted by think-tank Centre for China & Globalisation and jobs site Zhaopin.com. That’s up 10% from their last poll, in 2015.

Not all choose to abandon the Valley. Of the more than 850,000 AI engineers across America, 7.9% are Chinese, according to a 2017 report from LinkedIn.

That naturally includes plenty of ethnic Chinese without strong ties to the mainland or any interest in working there. However, there are more AI engineers of Chinese descent in the United States than there are in China, even though they make up less than 1.6% of the American population.

Yet the search for returnees has spurred a thriving cottage industry.

In WeChat and Facebook cliques, headhunters and engineers from the diaspora exchange banter and animated gifs.

Qi watches for certain markers: if you’ve scored permanent residency, are childless or the kids are prepping for college, expect a knock on your digital door.

Jay Wu has poached over 100 engineers for Chinese companies over the past three years. The co-founder of Global Career Path ran online communities for students before turning it into a career. The San Francisco resident now trawls more than a dozen WeChat groups for leads.

“WeChat is a good channel to keep tabs on what’s going on in the circle and also broadcast our offline events,” he said.

Ditching Cupertino or Mountain View for Beijing can be a tough sell when China’s undergoing its harshest Internet crackdown in history. But its tech giants hold three drawcards: faster growth in salaries, opportunity and a sense of home.

China’s Internet space is enjoying bubbly times, with compensation sometimes exceeding American peers’. One startup was said to have hired an AI engineer for cash and shares worth as much as US$30mil (RM119mil) over four years.

For engineers reluctant to relinquish American comforts, Chinese companies are going to them. Alibaba, Tencent, Uber-slayer Didi Chuxing and Baidu are among those who have built or are expanding labs in Silicon Valley.

Career opportunities, however, are regarded as more abundant back home. While Chinese engineers are well represented in the Valley, the perception is that comparatively fewer advance to the top rungs, a phenomenon labelled the “Bamboo Ceiling”.

“More and more Chinese engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time end up finding it’s much more lucrative for them career-wise to join a fast-rising Chinese company,”

says Hans Tung, a managing partner at venture firm GGV who’s organised events to poach talent.

“At Google, at LinkedIn, at Uber, at AirBnB, they all have Chinese engineers who are trying to figure out ‘should I stay, or should I go back’.”

More interesting than prospects for some may be the sheer volume of intimate data available and leeway to experiment in China.

Tencent’s WeChat, built by a small team in months, has become a poster-child for in-house creative licence.

Modern computing is driven by crunching enormous amounts of data, and generations of state surveillance has conditioned the public to be less concerned about sharing information than Westerners.

Local startup SenseTime for instance has teamed with dozens of police departments to track everything from visages to races, helping the country develop one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance machines.

China’s 751 million Internet users have thus become a massive petri dish.

Big money and bigger data can be irresistible to those itching to turn theory into reality.

Xu Wanhong left Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science PhD programme in 2010 to work on Facebook’s news feed.

A chance meeting with a visiting team from Chinese startup UCAR Technology led to online friendships and in 2015, an offer to jump ship. Today he works at Kuaishou, a video service said to be valued at more than US$3bil (RM12bil), and commutes from 20km outside Beijing. It’s a far cry from the breakfast bar and lush spaces of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“I didn’t go to the US for a big house. I went for the interesting problems,” he said.

Then there are those for whom it’s about human connection: no amount of tech can erase the fact that Shanghai and San Francisco are separated by an 11-hour flight and an even wider cultural chasm.

Chongqing native Yang Shuishi grew up deifying the West, adopting the name Seth and landing a dream job as a software engineer on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

But suburban America didn’t suit a single man whose hometown has about 40 times Seattle’s population.

While he climbed the ranks during subsequent stints at Google and Facebook, life in America remained a lonely experience and he landed back in China.

“You’re just working as a cog in the huge machine and you never get to see the big picture.

“My friends back in China were thinking about the economy and vast social trends,” he said.

“Even if I get killed by the air and live shorter for 10 years, it’ll still be better.” – Bloomberg

Related Link:

Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley – Bloomberg

Chinese workers abandon Silicon Valley for riches back home …

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Moving forward with affordable housing


One way to solve housing shortage problem is to build more houses.

“If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such
as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very
important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing
for their people.”

THE issue of affordable housing has been a hot potato for many countries, especially for a nation with a growing population and urbanisation like ours.

In my previous article, I mentioned that there was a growing shortage of affordable housing in our country according to Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim. The shortage is expected to reach one million units by 2020.

According to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, one of the most effective ways to address the issue is to build more houses. There are good examples in countries like United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, which have 2.4, 2.6 and 3.35 persons per household respectively.

In comparison, the average persons per household in our country is 4.06 person, a ratio which Australia had already achieved in 1933! To improve the current ratio, we need to put more effort into building houses to bring prices down.

If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing for their people.

For example in Singapore, their Housing and Development Board (HDB) has built over one million flats and houses since 1960, to house 90% of Singaporeans in their properties. In Hong Kong, the government provides affordable housing for lower-income residents, with nearly half of the population residing in some form of public housing nowadays. The rents and prices of public housing are subsidised by the government and are significantly lower than for private housing.

To be on par with Australia (2.6 persons per household), our country needs a total of 8.6 million homes to house our urban population of 22.4 million people. In other words, we need an additional 3.3 million houses on top of our existing 5.3 million residential houses.

However, with our current total national housing production of about 80,000 units a year, it will take us more than 40 years to build 3.3 million houses! With household formation growing at a faster rate than housing production, we will still be faced with a housing shortage 40 years from now.

Therefore, even if the private sector dedicated all its current output to build affordable housing, it will still be a long journey ahead to produce sufficient houses for the nation. It is of course impossible for the private sector to do so as it will be running at a loss due to rising costs of land and construction.

In view of the above, the government has to shoulder the responsibility of building more houses for the rakyat due to the availability of resources owned by the government. Land, for example, is the most crucial element in housing development. As a lot of land resources are owned by government, they must offer these lands to relevant agencies or authorities to develop affordable housing.

I recall when I was one of the founding directors of the Selangor State Development Corp in 1970s, its main objectives was to build public housing for the rakyat.

However, today the corporation has also ventured into high end developments in order to subsidise its affordable housing initiatives. This will somehow distract them from focusing on the affordable housing sector.

Although government has rolled out various initiatives in encouraging affordable houses, it is also important for the authorities to constantly review the original objectives of the relevant housing agencies, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, to ensure they have ample resources especially land and funding to continue their mission in building affordable housing.

A successful housing policy and easy access to affordable housing have a huge impact on the rakyat. It is hoped that our government escalates its effort in building affordable housing, which will enhance the happiness and well-being of the people, and the advancement of our nation.


Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
By Alan Tong

Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) – Tunnel project rocked, Directors arrested in graft probe


 

 

 

Stalled ambition: A view of the Gurney Drive seafront, which is meant to be connected to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai under the Penang undersea tunnel project.
The RM6.3bil undersea tunnel project in Penang is on rocky ground with the MACC going on a day-long swoop on companies and state government agencies involved. A high-ranking Datuk in one of the companies has been detained to help in investigations into allegations of corruption in the long-delayed mega project and feasibility studies.

PETALING JAYA: Graft-busters have arrested a Datuk holding a high post in a company involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help investigations into corruption claims.

The arrest came after a day-long massive swoop on several offices in Penang, where the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized documents related to the RM6.3bil mega project.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies since the raids began yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to pre-sell state land rights worth RM3bil despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.

Investigators are also believed to be looking into the RM305mil feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though a payment of RM220mil was made to the SPV.

On Oct 11 last year, the main contractor of the project announced that there was no urgency to finish the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel, as it was only set to begin in 2023.

The feasibility study of the tunnel started in February 2015 and as of October last year, it was said to be 92.9% complete.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has said the delay in submitting the feasibility report to him was very unusual considering that the project was awarded in 2013.

On Friday, Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) vice-president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan lodged a report at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya and handed over documents which he claimed contained new evidence of corruption in the project.

It was Huan’s third report about the matter. He first lodged a police report on July 17 last year, claiming that the project was awarded to an “undercapitalised” company.

He then lodged a report with the MACC on July 21, calling for a corruption probe.

In George Town, a source in the MACC confirmed that they had ­visited the offices of Ewein Zenith, Consor­tium Zenith Construction and 555 Capital, all of which are involved in the Penang undersea tunnel project.

“We went in the morning, shortly after their offices opened,” said the MACC officer.

However, none of the senior management staff were in and only the front office and sales staff were present to attend to them.

State Works Committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said he was not aware of the raids, while Consortium Zenith senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus said the National Economic Planning Unit on the 25th floor of Komtar was also raided, but declined to give details.

Huan thanked the commission for acting on his report.

“I believe the MACC will carry out its investigation professionally without any fear or favour,” he said.

The MACC is expected to hold a press conference today to explain the spate of raids and provide updates on the investigations.

By royce tan, tan sin chow, r. sekaran, cavina lim The Star

Penang hit by floods again !


GEORGE TOWN: Some 20 houses located on a slope in Hong Seng Estate in Mount Erskine were flooded due to blocked underground drainage.

“Not again!” was the reaction of factory worker S. Kalaiselvi, 42, who found herself neck-deep in water at her house at 2am yesterday after a three-hour downpour.

She waded through the water to higher ground with her parents, who are in their 60s.

“I have been living here for 26 years and only now am I seeing such floods,” said Kalaiselvi, who also had to move out when her house was hit by the massive floods on Nov 4 and 5 last year.

Her father Subramanian Peru­mal, 68, said he was still waiting for the relevant authorities to resolve the problem.

At the site, firemen had to install a water pump to draw out the rainwater, which flooded most of the units to waist level at one point.

It was the third time that the area was flooded since October last year.

Last Oct 30, blocked underground drainage caused floodings affecting six houses during an evening downpour, followed by massive floods during the Nov 4 and 5 storm.

On Sept 29 last year, seven houses in the estate were also affected by soil erosion.

Consultant engineer Datuk Lim Kok Khong had said the soil erosion was due to water seeping under the ground.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng, who has been barred from helping out with the registration of flood victims for the one-off RM700 aid given by the Penang government, was also there but offered no concrete solution to the floods in the area.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey said nine houses had to be demolished to make way for repair works.

She said they had offered owners of the nine affected houses a low medium-cost unit each as compensation, but the residents insisted on staying put.

Earlier, Penang Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the latest floods were caused by the continuous downpour that began on Thursday evening.

“The rain also coincided with a 2.34mm high tide at 2.30am yesterday,” he said.

Chow said the short-term measures to deal with the floods were to dig and deepen the rivers, and carry out upgrading and cleaning works at riverbanks to ensure that there were no blockages.

In Bukit Mertajam, a low wall sealing off the entrance to a lorry driver’s house prevented it from being submerged in floodwaters all over again.

While the water on the road outside was up to knee level, Heng Kai Chin’s home remained relatively dry, thanks to the metre-high barrier of cement and bricks.

But Heng, 43, still skipped work yesterday to keep an eye on the flooding.

A state flood report said water had entered at least 100 homes in Bukit Mertajam.

Source: The Staronline

Related Links:

Penang struck by yet another deluge

PENANGITES woke up to a cloudy and rainy morning as continuous downpour lasting for hours inundated several parts of the state.
Wet day: Students wading through floodwaters at SMK Mak Mandin in
Butterworth, Penang. (Left) Motorists braving through the waters on the
flyover at Sungai Nibong, Bayan Lepas. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star and
social mediapic

 

 

Metre-high wall keeps flood out of his home

More rain in Sabah and S’wak

Fish and veggie prices go up due to scarce supply

Two primary schools in Sabah remain closed

Flood-hit students eager to return to school

 

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Wanted: Leaders who listen !


Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5636613745001

 Grievances from residents warning of environmental damages must not fall on deaf ears

 “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

MY family home in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam in Penang, is more than 56 years old. That’s about my age, and it has never been hit by floods. Not once!

But last week, my parents – dad is 92 years old and mum, 86, – had their sleep rudely interrupted sometime after 1am by water gushing into their home.

They have been sleeping on the ground floor for years now because they are too old to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

The water that flowed into their room almost touched the top of their bed but fortunately, one of my nephews and his wife from Kuala Lumpur were staying over that night.

It was so fortunate that they were there to calm my anxious parents down and assure them all would be fine. They managed to comfort my stunned folks, who had never experienced such an unpleasant situation before. My father had to be carried to the room upstairs as the house remained flooded throughout the early morning.

Our home was filled with layers of mud the next day and the cars parked outside were all damaged. They sadly look like write-offs.

My father’s pride and joy, his first-generation Proton Saga car – which he bought in 1985 – is now unusable.

A week on, my brothers and nieces are still cleaning up the mess from the massive flood. They haven’t had the time or mood to even assess the financial losses.

And bound by a common sentiment as Penangites, they are tired of the blame game, a trade the state’s politicians have plied to near-perfection.

How many times can the finger be pointed at the previous government, with the incumbent almost 10 years in power? And how many more times can we blame it on torrential rain, which came from Vietnam – or wherever? Worst of all is, when discussions are mooted on flood issues, the voices of the people are swiftly silenced.

It appears that even to talk about hillslope development, one would have to contest in the elections, or be perceived to be challenging the state government, or more extremely, be some kind of lackey in cahoots with the Federal Government.

Blaming everyone else except oneself is simply a way of covering up one’s weaknesses. But the discerning public, in a maturing democracy with heightened transparency and a huge middle class like Penang, will not tolerate such short-term manoeuvring for long.

Suddenly, civil society – a buzzword among politicians – has vanished, with NGOs now regarded as irritants and an affront to the state establishment. Politics is apparently the monopoly of politicians now.

As the National Human Rights Society aptly puts it, “With the benefit of hindsight, we are sure that the Penang government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

“This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the fundamental human rights of the populace at large.”

Perhaps, the state political elites, many of whom aren’t pure blood Penangites, don’t realise the state is the home of a vibrant civil society, with many active NGOs and activists who are respected influencers of society.

Having walked through the corridors of power and appreciated power’s pleasures, perks and the adulation it brings, maybe it is becoming much harder for people to take criticism. This is, in fact, a reflection of the arrogance of power.

Many have developed thin skin now, with little tolerance for the slightest form of criticism. If anyone even dares raise their voice, an army of cybertroopers, hiding behind anonymity, are unleashed to attack them.

Freedom of speech, it seems, is only the domain of the opposition, with some media (regarded as unfriendly) unceremoniously ridiculed and questioned for their attendance at press conferences.

There are politicians from the Federal Government, too, who are shamelessly cashing in on the flood situation in Penang.

Their relief work must be splashed across news pages, and they have to be seen wading through the flood waters for dramatic purpose. Phua Chu Kang’s iconic yellow boots could likely be the hottest item in the state, as politicians bask in the media’s glare.

Ridiculous remarks have also been passed, one even blaming the state government, saying it has earned the wrath of God.

The rain and floods will go away, eventually. Penangites are stakeholders in the state, and they don’t only make up politicians. The state doesn’t belong to the state government or the opposition.

Caught up in the thick of the action, we seem to have forgotten that the hills are crumbling even without rain. As a stern reminder, just last month, a landslide buried some people in Tanjung Bungah. Investigations on that tragedy are still ongoing.

Basically, the trees – which act as sponge on the hills – are gone. We don’t need to be soil experts to know that.

The grumblings are growing louder because the hills have been progressively going bald in recent years. But the voice of discontent has fallen on deaf ears.

Penangites are alarmed at what they are seeing, and they don’t like it one bit, as much as they understand that land is scarce on the island and property developers need to source some to build homes on.

While it’s easy to hang the Penang state government out to dry for its follies, it’s difficult to ignore how the floods in the east coast states have become annual affairs, too. So, what effective flood mitigation plans have been put in place there?

Kelantan has suffered senselessly, and after more than a year of having been subjected to Mother Nature’s havoc, many victims have yet to recover from their losses. Flooding is obviously nothing exclusive and doesn’t discriminate. Every state has, unfortunately, experienced it in some shape or form.

So, irrespective of location, when life returns to normal, you can expect the politicians to resume their old denying ways.

If there’s a thread that binds our politicians – regardless of which side of the political divide they come from – it is their inability to apologise for their mistakes, despite waxing lyrical about accountability.

Don’t expect them to say sorry, because an apology would be admission of guilt, or worse, a sign of weakness in their realm of inflated egos.

And to put things into perspective, perhaps we could learn a lesson from a quote by prominent American pastor Andy Stanley – “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
On the beat Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Penang landslides & flooding are natural disasters man-made?


It’s hard to deny when the effects of climate change are all around us

 

Andrew Sheng says that from increasingly intense hurricanes to regional landslides and flooding, it’s clear our actions are effecting the
environment. But, it’s also evident that there are ways for us to avert
disaster and change course

 

AFTER two Category 5 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) hit the US in October, followed by Maria hitting Puerto Rico, no one can deny that natural disasters are devastating.

With three hurricanes costing an estimated US$385bil, with less than half insured, the poor are suffering the most because they cannot afford to rebuild as the rich.

This year alone, monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have left millions homeless. This year will therefore break all records as Munich Re-insurance data suggests that 2016 natural disaster losses were only US$175bil, already 28.6% higher than the 30 years (1986-2015) annual average of US$126bil.

But how much of these natural disasters are man-made?

Despite US President Trump being sceptical of climate change, the US Global Change Research Program Climate Science Report published this month concludes that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.

Carbon dioxide concentration already exceed 400 parts per million, last occurred about 3 million years ago, when both global average temperature and sea level were significantly higher than today. Roughly one third of carbon emission is due to residential heating/cooling, one third for transport and one third for industrial production.

Human activities on Mother Earth include over-consumption of natural resources, cutting down forests, polluting waters and excessive cultivation/development that caused desertification or soil erosion. You see this from warmer surface and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and declining tree and fish stock.

Oceans warming up

Hurricanes are caused by oceans warming up, building energy and vapour levels that create freak typhoons, tornados and massive downpours. At the same time, droughts are also occurring with more frequency for longer.

Scientists estimate that global average sea level has risen by about 7-8 inches since 1900, with almost half that rise occurring since 1993. Everyday, we hear new extreme events, such as unusually heavy rainfall, heatwaves, large forest fires, floods or landslides.

Climate warming is most observable in the water-stressed Middle East and the North Africa/Sahel region, where rapid population growth created desertification, food shortages, civil conflicts and ultimately, outward migration towards cooler climates, especially Europe. This hot region accounts for 60% of global war casualties since 2000, with 10 million outward refugees. About 90% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers come from four regions with half under the age of 18 years.

A 2016 World Bank report estimated that these water-stressed countries’ GDP could be reduced by up to 6%, with dire consequences on stability. Without water, industries cannot function, food cannot be cultivated and health can deteriorate due to disease from water-shortage and drought.

European estimates suggest that each refugee costs roughly US$11,600 per person to maintain and there are already one million trying to enter Europe last year. The OECD has classified countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as extreme fragile.

Critical point

The world is already reaching a critical turning point. If the Paris Climate Accord can be implemented, with or without the United States, there is some chance of averting further global warming.

But closer home, we are already witnessing the effects of climate change on our daily lives.

In 1972, Hong Kong experienced a devastating landslide near Po Shan Road in Mid-Levels, which caused 67 deaths and collapse of two buildings. One cause was unstable ground following heavy rainfall from Typhoon Rose eleven months prior to the incident.

This tragedy in densely populated Hong Kong resulted in rigorous slope protection and inspection of drains to ensure that these slips do not occur again. I lived near Po Shan Road and admired how Hong Kong engineers regularly inspected the slope protection measures and that the drains were always clear.

In 1993, the collapse of Highland Towers in Kuala Lumpur was partly attributed to the clearing of the hilltop above Highland Towers, which led to soil erosion and the weakening of the foundations. By the time the residents detected cracks in the buildings, it was already too late. Some of my personal friends were among the 48 persons who were killed in that collapse.

Last weekend, Penang (where I live) had the worst rainstorm and floods because we were hit by the tail end of strong winds from Typhoon Damrey, one of the strongest to hit Vietnam in 16 years, leaving 61 people dead. Driving along Penang Bridge, I can see that the continued hilltop developments in Penang are leaving soiled scars on the previously pristine landscape, I am reminded of Highland Towers and Po Shan incidents. Natural disasters are acts of god, but the size of their impact on human lives are completely within our control.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion does not happen overnight, and require responsible developers and conscientious governments, as well as concerned citizens, to be continually vigilant that maintenance of roads and drains, including soil inspections, are serious business with serious consequences.

Modern technology can provide drones and inbuilt sensors that can detect whether erosion is reaching critical levels. Regular maintenance of drains and checks on stability of the soil, especially where there has been recent clearing of trees in steep slopes, will forewarn us all of impending accidents.

As cities are building more and more on hillsides subject to torrential rain, Penang should seek technical expertise from Hong Kong which has extensive expertise on the maintenance of steep hill slopes that are subject to typhoons and sudden rainfall.

Landslides are today used more in political terms than in real terms. The next time landslides happen, residents who watch daily the erosion of their natural environment will know who is really looking after their interests.

Andrew Sheng  By Andrew Sheng

 

Related links:

No hill land approvals since 2008?

by penangforum

Former MBPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui wrote this piece for the press in his
personal capacity: I wish to comment on the press statement by Jagdeep
Singh Deo as reported in Berita Daily and many other newspapers on 24
October.

PKR rep cries for a stop to hillside development – Nation

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Sustainable Development in Penang


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The never ending torrential rain in Penang over the weekend was an act of God. A natural phenomenon which is a perpetual feature of our equatorial climate. Nobody would wish to have the heavens open up with such vengeance on any state.

Naturally, when the rain intensity is so great, floods will occur. We should always be vigilant during the annual monsoon season.

Flood mitigation starts from the local council and state government. Every council must take into consideration the terrain, rainfall and built up surfaces in their area. While we can always engineer ourselves out of a flood, there is always a cost versus benefit consideration. There are some low-lying areas in a flood plain that will perpetually be flooded when it rains and if we situate developments in those areas, we have to be prepared for such events.

On a small island like Penang, with its hilly terrain, engineering flood mitigation measures must be a long term and all-inclusive plan encompassing all urban growth zones. It will not be cheap, mainly due to the high land cost and the expense incurred to provide adequate storage for the surface runoff.

As the island develops, open permeable spaces will continue to diminish causing higher runoff to flow downstream into the coastal areas. Couple that with tidal phenomenon and the incoming surface runoff will easily overwhelm the drainage system causing a rise in water level.

The question we should all be asking is how do we reduce the incidence of flooding? Unfortunately, especially with our tropical climate, it is quite impossible to entirely eliminate flooding. Anybody that promises that is telling you a blatant lie.

With the right planning and engineering, we can reduce the incidence of flooding and lower the magnitude of the damage caused.

Penang’s terrain bears much similarity to Hong Kong. Being in the path of tropical storms and typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, Hong Kong bears the brunt of some of the regions worst storms. On average, six tropical cyclones slam into Hong Kong every year. While flooding still occurs in Hong Kong, they have managed to reduce the damage it causes.

There are many lessons Penang can learn from Hong Kong.

If DAP still wants to continue to develop the state in a sustainable manner, they must implement special flood mitigation requirements in addition to the ones provided by the JPS Masma manual. If the hills are being cleared, the increased runoff will tax the existing drainage system. Siltation will occur, evident from the brownish flood waters, as topsoil and sediment from the hills wash down into the coastal plain. These sediments, unless periodically maintained, will clog existing waterways, thus reducing drainage efficiency.

The ultimate problem with highly built up areas is the immense volume of runoff from storms. Sufficient storage areas in the form of retention ponds and green open areas should be provided to retard the flow of water into the rivers.

Due to its terrain and the high-density development on the island, it is expensive to provide adequate stormwater storage within a development.

Catchment areas next to hillslopes also have a large volume of runoff moving at a high velocity. The damaging effect of erosion is quite evident on many of these hill projects. Sometimes water currents are so strong, even paved roads can be ripped apart.

Some of the more innovative solutions for Hong Kong’s flooding problems like the underground stormwater storage system has worked very well over the years together with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan.

The Drainage Services Department of the Hong Kong SAR constructed massive underground tanks to route surface runoff intercepted from uphill catchments during storms only to slowly release the stormwater into the natural waterways when the storm abates.

The Penang state government has a duty of care to the residents of Penang to ensure that disasters of such proportion should not happen.

Over the past four years, a total of 119 incidences of flooding has been recorded in Penang. Penang is an economic powerhouse and home to some of the world most high-tech electronics producers.

The state government has to provide a safe and secure environment for investor to house their production facilities and assets. Otherwise, multinationals might shun the island because of the cost of protecting and insuring their priceless assets. Productivity would be affected and the cost to remedy the damage.

We will only find out the true financial cost of this disaster over the next few weeks.

For Penang to recover from this tragedy, federal funding is required to repair all the damaged infrastructure within the state.

The very least they can do is to provide a COMPETENT flood mitigation plan for the state starting with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan Study.

The Penang government has to be ACCOUNTABLE to the people and not private developers. If certain waterways and catchment areas have to be gazetted as permanent drainage and storage areas, then so be it.

The safety and well-being of the Rakyat has to come first. Lastly, in the interest of  TRANSPARENCY, Penang has to launch an inquiry into how the local council approved property developments on Class III slopes without adequate slope protection.

The collapse of many retaining structures and slope failures in such risky locations is cause to for concern because as of right now, any dwelling structure located downstream to those development could possibly be the scene for the next Highland Towers.

Kong Len Wei@konglen wei

Source: by Kong Len Wei, a Civil engineer  and councilor for Majlis Perbandaran Manjung and the Chairman of MCA Youth Perak Young Professional’s Bureau
Related Links

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