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
FMT – GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Forum has repeated its call for all hillslope development to be stopped immediately, following deadly hillslope collapse ...
|Geotechnical engineer Aziz Noor says the new project puts the people and the place in danger|
GEORGE TOWN: The DAP-led state government has turned a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development, said a Tanjung Bungah resident.
At a forum-cum-press conference yesterday, geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor (pic) said building the proposed multi-storey mixed development behind the Miami Green Resort Condominium would pose a danger to the condo and its residents.
The development which has been approved on the class four hill, comprises five 29-storey building blocks, two 34-storey serviced apartments with 336 units each and one block of affordable apartments with 197 units.
Meanwhile, former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Tanjong Bungah candidate for Pakatan Harapan, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development. – Bernama
GEORGE TOWN: An engineer has sounded a warning about “imminent danger” from a new hillside development of eight tower blocks of apartments planned in an environmentally-sensitive area of Tanjung Bungah.
Geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor, speaking at a forum-cum-press conference today, accused the DAP-led state government of turning a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development.
The proposed mixed development behind Miami Green Resort condominium puts the existing residence and its people in danger, he said.
The development has been approved on a 12-acre plot with a 35-degree slope on a Class Four hill, which exceeds 250 feet above sea level.
It comprises five 29-storey tower blocks, two 34-storey blocks of 336 serviced apartments each, and one block of 197 units of affordable apartments.
Aziz said that the project was not only in an environmentally sensitive area, it also contradicts the 2007 Penang Structure Plan that forbid any development above a gradient of 25-degree gradient and 250 feet above sea-level.
The design of one development does not guarantee safety. A Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted and reviewed. This development puts the place and people in imminent danger,” he said.
Residents of the area said they had vented their frustration multiple times since November but had not received any response from the state government and Penang Island City Council.
The residents, together with the Tanjung Bunga residents association, had spoken on the matter many times, but no one seemed bothered, said one of the residents, Lim Liew Ming.
“Our lives are at risk. The upcoming development is a ticking time-bomb. Are the authorities waiting for a tragedy to happen, and only then act on it?,” she asked.
State Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, who is also BN candidate for the Tanjong Bunga state seat in the general election, said the project should have been shelved from the beginning.
“We will put a stop to this. Even if we need to pay compensation,” he said.
The Barisan Nasional has pledged to declare all highland and hill slope areas of 250 feet above sea-level as permanent forest reserve.
Former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Pakatan Harapan candidate for Tanjong Bunga, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development.
Source:FMT.Click here to get live updates throughout the GE14 season
GEORGE TOWN: An MCA state leader has criticised Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng over the latter’s statement that more stop-work orders have been issued against hillside development by the current state government.
State MCA Wanita chairman Tan Cheng Liang said Lim, who is also the DAP secretary-general, had “conveniently avoided” revealing the increase in number of protests in the state since 2008.
“He boasts about more stop-work orders being issued now compared to when Barisan Nasional was helming the state government.
“However, he failed to reveal that there have been more protests by Penangites against hillside development since Pakatan Rakyat took over.
“The latest is the chorus of dissatisfaction by residents of Mount Pleasure in Batu Ferringhi, objecting against approval accorded by the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) for the construction of 21 four-storey villas and 80 two-storey bungalows there,” she said.
She said the 2008 DAP general election manifesto unveiled by Lim promised to “preserve our forest, wetlands and bio-diversity” while Pakatan Rakyat’s common policy framework stressed that the “environment must be preserved for the sustainability of future generations.”
“Just six weeks ago, Lim said in a speech that the Pakatan government was proud of its record of not approving any hillside development.
“However, the voices of disapproval by Penangites are evidence that Lim, the DAP and Pakatan are deceptive,” she claimed.
Citing examples, she said on April 8 this year, Sungai Ara residents protested against approval issued by MPPP Planning Department for two hillside development projects and in February 2009, Tanjung Bungah residents protested and submitted a memorandum calling on the state government to ban all current and future Class III and Class IV hillslope development projects.
“In view of these protests and to deliver the DAP and Pakatan’s pledge to protect the environment, I challenge Lim and the state government to issue a stop-work orders against all hillside development projects approved by MPPP,” she said in a press release yesterday.
Tan also took a swipe at Lim for focusing on luxury residences but allegedly had no regard for the poor.
“Approvals are given for exclusive housing and condominium projects on hills, but scant attention is given to low-cost housing for the poor where no low or medium cost units were constructed between 2008 to 2011,” she claimed.
On Tuesday, Lim said more stop-work orders had been issued by both local councils since 2008 compared to previously.
He said this proved that the state government was “more stringent in upholding the rule of law, demanding strict compliance with technical requirements and more unforgiving than Barisan.” – The Star
|Uphill battle: Miami Green Resort Condominium residents protesting against the upcoming hillside project located behind their high-rise.|
just north of Inti College and near Equatorial Hotel in Bukit Jambul. The irony is that such ‘back to Nature’ projects are being advertised as ‘green …
|Southern Bukit Jambul – READ MORE: Penang Forum discusses its Penang Hills Watch Report 2016 with state government|
The DAP state assemblyman for Tanjung Bungah has hit out at state authorities for approving another hillslope project on the … They were concerned about the possible violation of law related with hillslope development guidelines by either the developer or the state government, or both.
Speaking out: Penang Forum members protesting outside the CAP office in George Town. Don’t just make it about worker safety issues …
Behind BJ Cove houses at Lintang Bukit Jambul 1 is an IJM Trehaus Project. Approximate Coordinates : 5°20’38.47″N,100°16’…
Penang floods and landslides, looking beyound natural causes! Seeking solutions: Penang Forum member and soil expert Dr Kam Suan Pheng giving her views during the dialogue session themed ‘Penang Fl..
https://youtu.be/ooyXvqmxbvw GEORGE TOWN: Some 20 houses located on a slope in Hong Seng Estate in Mount Erskine were flooded due
It’s hard to deny when the effects of climate change are all around us Andrew Sheng says that from increasingly intense hurricanes t…
Hills, landslides, floods and damaged houses: What to do?
https://youtu.be/QB45Q2_mOG0 Suspicious activity: A photo taken from Penang social activist Anil Netto’s blog showing an active s..
Becoming bald: A view of the clearing work seen at Bukit Relau which was visible from the Penang Bridge in November last year. GEORGE..
NEW Year always come with new resolutions. Finance is an important aspect of most people’s checklists when it comes to planning new goals.
While it is good to set new financial targets, it is also vital to re-look at our debt portfolio to ascertain if it is at a healthy state.
At a national level, our country also has its financial targets matched against its debt portfolio.
According to the latest Risk Developments and Assessment of Financial Stability 2016 Report by Bank Negara, the country’s household debt was at RM1.086 trillion or 88.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) as at end 2016.
Residential housing loan accounted for 50.3% (RM546.3bil) of total household debts, motor vehicles at 14.6%, personal financing at 14.9%, non-residential loan was 7.4%, securities at 5.7%, followed by credit cards at 3.5% and other items at 3.6%.
Evidently, residential housing loan is the highest among all types of household debt. However, a McKinsey Global Institute Report on “Debt and (Not Much) Deleveraging” in 2015 highlighted that in advanced countries, mortgage or housing loan comprises 74% of total household debt on average.
As a country that aspires to be a developed nation, a housing loan ratio of 50.3% to total household debt would be considered low, compared to 74% for the advanced countries. In other words, we are spending too much on items that depreciate in value immediately – such as car loans, credit card loans and personal loans – compared to assets that appreciate in value in the long run, such as houses.
Advanced economies, which are usually consumer nations, have only 26% debts on non-housing loan as compared to ours at 49.7%.
In order to adopt the household debt ratio of advanced economies, our housing loan of RM546.3bil should be at 74% of total household debt. This means that if we were to keep our housing loan of RM546.3bil constant, our total household debt should be reduced from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil. This would require other non-housing loans (car loans, credit card loans and personal loans etc) to reduce from 49.7% of total household debt to only 26%. To achieve this ratio, the non-housing loan debt must collapse from the current RM539.7bil to only RM192bil.
Reducing total household debt from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil would also have the added benefit of reducing our total household debt-to-GDP ratio from the high 88.4% to only 60%, making us one of the top countries globally for financial health.
Malaysia’s household debt at present ranked as one of the highest in Asia. Based on the same 2015 McKinsey Report, our household debt-to-income ratio was 146% in 2014 (the ratio of other developing countries was about 42%) compared to the average of 110% in advanced economies.
Adjusting the debt ratio by reducing car loans, personal loans and credit card loans will make our nation stay financially healthy.
Car values depreciate at about 10% to 20% per year based on insurance calculations, accounting standards and actual market prices. Assets financed by personal and credit card loans typically depreciate immediately and aggressively.
The easy access to credit cards and personal loan facilities tend to encourage people to spend excessively, especially when there is no maximum credit limit imposed on credit cards for those earning more than RM36,000 per year.
If we maximised the credit limit given without considering our financial ability, we will need a long time to repay due to the high interest rates, which ranged from 15% to 18% per annum.
Based on a report in The Star recently, Malaysia’s youth are seeing a worrying trend with those aged between 25 and 44 forming the biggest group classified as bankrupt.
The top four reasons for bankruptcy were car loans (26.63%), personal loans (25.48%), housing loans (16.87%) and business loans (10.24%).
It is time for the Government to introduce more drastic cooling-off measures for non-housing loans in order to curb debt that is not backed by assets. This will protect the rakyat from further impoverishment that they are voicing and feeling today.
As we kick start the new year, it is good to relook into our debt portfolio. When we are able to identify where we make up most of our debts, and start to reallocate our financial resources more effectively, we will be heading towards a sound and healthier financial status as a nation.
Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please e-mail email@example.com.
STRATA-type property is and has been all the rage. It is also expected to be “the living model” if not already.
Whether in cosmopolitan cities or suburban fringes, and as space becomes “in want” and prices hike, we feature our final article on strata-related property highlighting pertinent questions frequently asked to which Chris Tan (CT) gives input on.
Q: What should one look out for in the S&P before deciding on buying a particular strata-titled residential property?
CT: Buying a strata title property is not just buying a property but buying into a community living regulated by law. As a buyer, you are not only responsible for your very own unit but also the common property within the development too.
There is an ongoing obligation to pay the monthly service charges and sinking fund until the day you sell the same to another owner.
Besides the S&P Agreement, you are normally expected to sign the Deed of Mutual Covenants too, that regulates the relationship of the many owners within the same development with house rules vis-a-vis the prescribed by-laws under the Strata Management Act. In addition to the compliance with these rules, you are also expected to participate in the management of the common property at the Annual General Meeting as well as the Extraordinary General Meeting.
In the completion of the S&P Agreement, do ensure that the seller has no more outstanding charges and sinking funds owing the management and that the deposits paid are to be adjusted accordingly.
Q: Can you please explain further on ‘share units’ of strata-titled property? How does this affect a residential strata-titled property owner or what is the relation between the owner and the share units?
CT: Share unit has always been there in strata living as it will be stated in the strata title upon its issuance. It is now capturing the limelight, given that it is now the basis to be contributed into the maintenance charges and not the usual rate psf of the size of your main parcel.
There are different ‘weightages’ for the main parcel, the accessory parcel and the type of usage to make up the various elements of the share unit.
Suffice to say that two units of apartments of the exact same size might have different share unit allocation, if one has more accessory parcels than the other, or one is of commercial usage while the other is residential.
Q: What are some current and common issues faced by owners of strata-titled residential property and how would these be best settled?
CT: Issue 1: Contribution to service charges and sinking funds from the owners have always been done on the total size (in sf.) of the main parcel. Under the new regime since June 2015, it should now be based on per share unit instead.
Share unit is a concept that takes into account the size and the usage (of different allocated weight) of both the main parcel as well as the accessory parcel. It’s stated clearly in the strata title when it is issued. It is also the basis of voting by poll if so requested in any General Meeting. Share unit is therefore now the basis of both contribution and control as opposed to just control in the past.
In theory, it should be a fair method for all. The issues are:
(i) Some strata owners find themselves paying more than before while some strata owners now pay less; and
(ii) The Share unit allocation under the previous legal regime was a result of consultation and discretion and not as transparently guided under the new law. It is a difficult process and to adjust again, particularly when the strata titles have been issued, will be tedious.
Issue No. 2: In Phased Development there is now a requirement to file the Schedule of Parcels (SOP) stating clearly the total share units to be offered under the entire development before one can proceed to sell. It therefore includes the later phases of a development that will only be developed in the future.
The issue is that this SOP can only be adjusted if we can get 100% of the owners to agree or it is a direction from the authority.
There will be no flexibility accorded to the developer who might want to change the SOP for the feasibility or sustainability of the development, taking into account the new circumstances of the future, in the best interest of the entire development.
Another related issue would be on the contribution of the allocated share units by the developer for yet to be developed phase in the maintenance of the common property already built and delivered.
Q: Any other ‘surprises’ or areas of concern that many strata-titled residential property owners are unaware of until after purchase of such residents?
CT: Don’t be surprised if the property does not come with an allotted car park, although it is a norm to expect a car park to come with the unit. It is not always the case.
Q: Like many busy owners of a strata-titled property who do not have the time to sit in at resident’s meetings with the management body – many have simply ‘gone with the flow’ of things as ‘questions/disputes’ require time for discussion.
What would you recommend for busy individuals who have ‘no time’ to attend such meetings but can only look at the annual/bi-annual strata/building management statements/financial reports? What should one keep an eye out for in these financial statements?
Why is it important to attend these meetings; what would owners be losing out on by not attending and being an ‘active owner’?
CT: It is a regulated community living and participation is expected of every owner.
Although many have chosen to be passive, you need to participate or run the risk of letting major decisions lay in the hands of the active few.
You should keep an eye to ensure that the charges collected are well spent, that collection should always be monitored and the performance of the appointed property manager.
Also, understand your rights and obligations as a strata owner is important, and ensure that you and your neighbors are equally aware of the same too.
Q: As a tenant, and not the owner of the ‘parcel’ – are they bound to all the By-laws?
CT: The by-laws, additional by-laws and amendment of such additional by-laws made by the Management Body shall not only bind the owners but also the tenants, chargess, lessees and occupiers.
Q: Any other important issues that you would like to highlight to readers of theSun?
CT: Moving forward, strata living will be the preferred way of community living. Take a keen interest to learn and understand this living model in order to get the most out of it.
There are many more frequently asked questions, especially on management bodies, by-laws and leakage and defects. Answers to these can be found in Chris Tan’s Owner’s Manual & Guidebook.
Follow our property column next Friday for more insights on the market in the local scene.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Alan Tong
Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation
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.
Behind BJ Cove houses at Lintang Bukit Jambul 1 is an IJM Trehaus Project.
https://youtu.be/QB45Q2_mOG0 Suspicious activity: A photo taken from Penang social activist Anil Netto’s blog showing an active s..
Choong (in white) surveying the deforested hillslope next to Majestic Heights. PENANG MCA has raised concerns about the safety of the r..
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.
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 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.
Becoming bald: A view of the clearing work seen at Bukit Relau which was visible from the Penang Bridge in November last year. GEORGE
Seeking solutions: Penang Forum member and soil expert Dr Kam Suan Pheng giving her views during the dialogue sessio
Speaking out: Penang Forum members protesting outside the CAP office in George Town. Don’t just make it about worker safety
https://youtu.be/QB45Q2_mOG0 Suspicious activity: A photo taken from Penang social activist Anil Netto’s blog showing an active
Why did MBPP approve the Tanjung Bungah development project?
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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