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

 

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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.

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Hills, landslides, floods and damaged houses: What to do?


Hills, landslides and floods: What to do?

 The mega floods in Penang which followed the landslide tragedy, flash floods in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, and a shrinking water catchment area in Ulu Muda … it’s time our leaders paid attention to the environment.

THE news has been full of the related issues of hill cutting, logging, landslides and floods. The environmental crisis is back in the public consciousness, and we should seize the moment to find solutions and act on them.

Penang has been the epicentre of this upsurge, for good reasons: the mega flash floods and landslides over the weekend and on Sept 15, and the Oct 21 hill slope collapse in Lembah Permai (Tanjung Bungah) which killed 11 employees at a construction site.

Saturday’s overwhelming floods in Penang, which paralysed the island in so many ways and affected lives, property and activities, was a megashock not only to people in the state but throughout the nation.

But it’s not just a Penang phenomenon.

On Oct 30, flash floods caused massive traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the floods were caused not only by heavy rain but by developers of two projects that had blocked drainage.

A stop­work order will be issued if the developers do not take measures specified by City Hall.

Another threat is the logging of valuable water catchment areas.

The Ulu Muda forest in Kedah, which provides much of the water supply to Kedah, Penang and Perlis, is under such a threat as the originally designated Ulu Muda water catchment area has shrunk by 87% from 98,400ha in 1969 to 12,484ha in 2017.

The forest reserve was the most important water catchment area in the Northern Corridor Economic Region but timber production there was growing because Kedah depended on logging as a source of income, said Penang Water Supply Corporation CEO Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa ( The Star, Oct 27).

He suggested that the federal government compensate Kedah for gazetting and preserving Ulu Muda as a water catchment area, noting that the Muda Dam provided 80% of the daily raw water needs for Kedah.

Jaseni issued this stark warning: when logging affects the Muda Dam’s ability to store sufficient water, all three states would face a water crisis in the next dry season.

In Penang, the debate on the floods and the tragic landslide has continued non­stop and moved last week to the State Assembly.

The clearest explanation of the worsening flood situation that I have heard was the presentation by scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng at the Penang Forum event on Oct 29.

 

A former Universiti Sains Malaysia academic who then worked in international agencies including the International Rice Research Institute, Dr Kam said there were seven main causes of floods in Penang:

  • > Increasingly heavy rainfall; 
  • > Expansion of impermeable surface area;
  • > Eroded soil and landslides increase the sediment load in surface runoffs;
  • > Debris that clogs up waterways; 
  • > Accumulation of surface flow downstream;
  • > Limited capacity to channel off discharge; and
  • > High tides slow down discharge to the sea.

She provided historical and current data to show that flash floods are happening more frequently and with more adverse effects, even with lower rainfall levels. With higher rainfall expected in future, the situation can be expected to significantly worsen.

Dr Kam focused on expansion of impermeable surface area (caused by ill­ planned development and replacing natural ground cover such as hills, fields and trees that act as a water ­absorbing sponge) and soil erosion and landslides (caused by cutting and development in hill areas) as two factors that need special attention.

She quoted Datuk Kam U Tee, the Penang Water Authority general manager (1973~­90), as having correctly explained the Penang floods of October 2008, as follows: the floods were caused by conversion of the Paya Terubong and Bayan Baru valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water. The water immediately flows into streams causing flash floods even with moderate rainfall. Because of hill­cutting activities, the flowing water causes erosion of the slopes which carries mud and silt into the river beds”. ( The Star, Oct 24, 2008).

Flood mitigation and flood prevention are two types of actions to tackle the flood problem, said Dr Kam.

Mitigation measures only tackle the symptoms, are costly and need public (state and federal) funds. These include structural measures (upgrading rivers, installing pumps) and non­structural measures (drainage masterplan; flood forecasting and warning systems; public education).

 

Flood prevention should be the priority as that would tackle the root causes, said Dr Kam, who proposed the following actions:

  • > Proper land-­use planning and development control;
  • > Environmental, drainage, transportation and social impact assessments should be made   regarding development plans, beyond individual development projects;
  • > Stringent protection of hill land and slopes;
  • > Stringent monitoring of development projects;
  • >More greening of urban spaces, including a system of parks; and
  • >Protection of riverbanks.

To take these measures, policymakers have to deploy a wide range of policy and legal instruments, and to adopt environmentally sensitive and ecologically friendly structural and non­structural solutions, concluded Dr Kam.

Another speaker, Datuk Agatha Foo, complemented Dr Kam nicely when she elaborated on the various laws, guidelines and plans that can be used to prevent the wrong kinds of development, to control and monitor approved developments and to strictly enforce the laws.

She also spoke on the loopholes and weaknesses of the laws and how to correct them.

Events of the past few weeks alone indicate that the number of environment ­related and human-made problems are bound to increase, probably many times, unless our leaders and policymakers give higher priority to the environment and to well­ planned development.

The paradigm shift should start now, as the alarm bells have already rung.


Source: The Star Malaysia
director@southcentre.org Martin Khor Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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PAC blamed Penang Island City Council (MBPP) for failing to enforce laws on hillside development


Becoming bald: A view of the clearing work seen at Bukit Relau which was visible from the Penang Bridge in November last year.

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had faulted the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) for failing to monitor and enforce laws on hillside development in the state.

In its report on hill land development tabled on May 19, PAC said the lax monitoring not only resulted in unchecked hill clearing, but landowners were able to build houses, chalets, hotels and restaurants on Penang’s hill range.

“This situation happened because of MBPP’s failure to monitor and patrol hill land after notices were issued to landowners.

“This led to risks of soil erosion, landslides, mudslides, river sedimentation and disruptions to the surroundings,” it stated.

PAC’s report gained public attention after Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin brought it up in a dialogue session held by Penang NGOs and residents associations on flood and landslides on Sunday.

She told 200-odd members of the civil society that the report was tabled in the state assembly but never presented.

PAC stated that according to the state Audit Department, out of 31 illegal hill land clearing cases in 2015, four were in the Teluk Bahang water catchment area.

The committee, chaired by Bagan Dalam assemblyman A. Tanasekharan, visited nine of the cases on March 1.

It highlighted the Bukit Relau hill clearing case 410m above sea level and visible from Penang Bridge.

“Media reports and public comments should have been enough for MBPP and other authorities to take immediate action.

“Mitigation works on Bukit Relau have taken so long to be completed. The local authorities neither monitor the work frequently nor supply regular updates,” it added.

On illegal clearing that took place on Penang Hill, PAC expressed frustration that the actual dates and specific locations of the earthworks could not be determined because of the unsatisfactory records and monitoring.

“On Penang Hill, there was confusion on the existing agricultural plot and the new clearings.

“There are no definitions of allowable hill land agricultural works that involves digging,” it added.

PAC also objected to an earlier suggestion by the state Local Government Committee to exclude hill land earthworks related to agricultural activities from needing work permits.

Source: The Star by Arnold Loh

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Councillors ready to serve Penangites to make a difference?

Penang floods, support pours in for dialogue


(From left) Dr Kam will deliver a talk on ‘Understanding the Causes of Floods and Seeking Solutions. State assemblymen expressing interest in attending are Dr Norlela, Cheah, Muhamad Farid, Ooi and Shah Headan.

School students and the public wading through floodwaters in Jalan Trengganu
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Filepix of cars getting stalled on flooded Jalan Ayer Itam

MORE than 10 elected representatives from Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional have so far confirmed their attendance at the dialogue session ‘Penang Floods: A Call for Action’ to discuss floods at the Teow Chew Association in Chulia Street on Sunday from 10am till noon.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng from PKR said the briefing was a good initiative to gather feedback from the people.

“As people’s representatives, we should always have a positive mind dtowards discussions, whether it is positive or negative.

“Dialectics process is necessary to get to the bottom of a problem,” he said yesterday.

Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin, also from PKR, believes the dialogue session would be a great resource for her to learn more about what was happening on the island.

“I have always been concerned about the flooding woes in my constituency and other parts on the mainland.

“I want to know more about flooding on the island too,” she said.

Dr Norlela said the input from the session would be useful for help to raise questions in the state assembly sitting from Nov 2.

Teluk Bahang assemblyman Datuk Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah from Barisan Nasional said the session would be a good platform for the people and affected flood victims to raise their concerns.

“Our priority is to help the rakyat (people) and we will come in support of them,” he said.

Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu, from the DAP, said he would send two of his representatives to the session.

“I will raise flood issues during the assembly sitting. I have done this many times before,” he said.

Pulau Betong assemblyman Muhammad Farid Saad said he would be attending a function in his constituency. However, he said he would try to attend the dialogue “even though I may be late.”

Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi said he would be attending an event to foster unity between Muslims and non-Muslims at Jamek Mosque in his constituency at the same time.

“I will be late if the event at the mosque starts late,” he said.

The dialogue will be moderated by Penang Forum steering committee member Ahmad Chik.

Forum member Dr Kam Suan Pheng, a soil expert and scientist, will deliver a talk on ‘Understand-ing the Causes of Floods and Seeking Solutions’.

Lawyer Datuk Agatha Foo will talk on ‘Laws and Guidelines Relating to Hill Land and Hill Slope Development’.

Consumers Association of Penang legal adviser Meenakshi Raman will touch on the ‘Demands of Residents’ Associations of Penang’ and it will be followed by the dialogue session.

Meenakshi, who is Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman, urged resident associations and management corporations to attend the event.

She said 24 resident associations, management corporations and residents groups had joined the Residents’ Associations of Penang which was formed last year.

“We hope more will sign up. More members means more strength in handling issues affecting the community,” she said.

For details on the dialogue, email penangforumm@gmail.com or call 04-8299511 (Jaspal).

Source: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadass

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Penang Paya Terubong Residents living under shadow of fear!


Put on hold: A view of the site for the development of four apartment buildings in Paya Terubong, Air Itam.

GEORGE TOWN: Since the deadly landslide in Tanjung Bungah, people in Paya Terubong are looking over their shoulder – and up at a nearby hill.

They have been trying for years to stop a project comprising four towers, each over 40 storeys tall, approved on a hillside across the road from their homes.

Because the project has already been approved, the residents are down to one last resort – the state Planning Appeals Board.

“We must try. The only thing between our homes and those four towers will be a new two-way street that the developer will build if this project goes on,” said Taman Sri Rambai and Taman Lau Geok Swee Residents’ Association chairman Dr Ti Lian Geh.

The plan, he said, was supposed to be six-storey townhouses but the developer put in a request to change it to high-density apartments.

He said the residents have been living in fear after learning that the development plan was changed to three blocks of 47-storey luxury apartments and a 41-storey block of affordable housing.

He said a hearing is ongoing with the Planning Appeals Board to stop the development.

“Building skyscrapers on a steep hillslope is dangerous. If the towers come down, the whole neighbourhood will be gone,” he said, adding that the high-density project will also worsen traffic congestion there.

He told a press conference yesterday that the earthworks two years ago caused frequent flash floods, mudslides and torrential mudflows in the neighbourhood.

Penang MCA and Gerakan, which organised the press conference, urged the state government to revoke the approval.

Bukit Gelugor MCA division deputy secretary Choong Jun Jie said that every time there is a downpour, the residents worry.

“We do not want another tragedy,” he said.

Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Oh Tong Keong said people’s lives are in jeopardy when highrise projects are given priority.

The staggered hillslope is now covered with geotextile sheets after the Penang Island City Council issued a stop-work order about two years ago.

Penang Island City Council Engineering Department director Addnan Mohd Razali said all construction work there except for mitigation measures have been stopped pending the outcome of the residents’ appeal.

Source: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadass and Rena Lim

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Penang landslide, whose faults?


GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Island City Council has lodged a police report against the consultant of the affordable housing project that was hit by a landslide in Tanjung Bungah on Saturday, claiming the lives of 11 workers.

This is because the state government wants the matter investigated and the responsible parties to be charged, state Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said.

He stressed that the incident was a construction site accident.

“We hope the council and other related agencies will give their fullest cooperation to the police,” he told a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

At the same conference, Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif acknowledged that the project was rejected by the Department of Environment (DOE) but said it was approved by the state because it complied with Penang’s Safety Guidelines for Hill Site Development 2012.

Besides, she said, the DOE had approved a residential project and a private education institution that were even closer to the quarry.

“It is located more than 500m from the quarry’s blasting point while federal guidelines only require a minimum distance of 350m.

“The project’s site is zoned as ‘general residential’ and the slope gradient is less than 20°.

What a mess: Some groups believe that if the
DOE’s advice had been heeded, the landslide tragedy could have been
avoided. — Bernama

“The land is also less than 76m above sea level with the site located on a contour between 18m and 40m,” she said.

Maimunah said that based on all the requirements, the council’s One-Stop Centre (OSC) – which comprises members from more than 20 technical agencies at state and federal level – agreed to approve the project.

The OSC is in charge of approving property development plans on the island.

“The earthworks planning permission was presented to the OSC on May 14, 2015, and it was approved with conditions on June 6, 2015, while the commencement of work approval was given on Jan 18 last year,” she said.

However, the Tanjung Bungah Residents Association was not happy with the reasons given by the council for allowing the project.

“How could the council ignore the advice when the DOE is the authority responsible for protecting the environment?” association chairman Meenakshi Raman asked.

Penang Island City Council mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif telling a press conference that the project met state guidelines.

“If they had heeded the DOE’s advice, this tragedy could have been avoided and lives would not have been lost.”

“We feel betrayed … the state government failed to listen to us,” she said yesterday, commenting on Maimunah’s statements at the press conference.

Penang Federal Action Council chairman Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman urged the state government to immediately set up an independent body to audit all approvals of hillslope development projects made by the various state authorities.

“The Penang government has to take responsibility and be accountable for the tragedy involving the loss of 11 lives.

“We ask it to stop blaming others for any accident which occurred since it became the state government.

“We are surprised that a project which was not supported by a technical department was still given approval by the state authority,” he said in a statement.

An undertaker (in white) and a priest performing prayers at the scene of
the landslide for site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27, who was killed in
the tragedy.

The Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) also came forward to offer technical assistance and opinions in the investigation.

Its president Dr Tan Yean Chin said in a statement that IEM is recognised locally and internationally as a professional body representing a wide cross-section of the engineering practice.

“As a learned society with over 40,000 members and affiliated to several international engineering organisations, IEM is able to offer expert opinions on this tragic event,” he said.

Source: The Starby lo tern chern, logeiswary thevadass, cavina lim, crystal chiam shiying, r. sekaran, rahmah ghazali, danial albakri

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Penang landslide tragedy, why it happened?


Speaking out: Penang Forum members protesting outside the CAP office in George Town.

Don’t just make it about worker safety issues

 

GEORGE TOWN: A Penang Forum member is worried that the state’s proposed inquiry into the Tanjung Bungah landslide will only focus on worker safety issues.

Meenakshi Raman, who is also Tanjung Bungah Residents Associa­tion chairman, said the inquiry should instead look at the laws that have not been followed and whether or not the Penang Structure Plan (PSP) was neglected.

“It should also look at whether the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which has the authority to act, failed to properly do its job.

“We hope the commission will broaden its scope of inquiry,” she told press conference at the Consu­mers Association of Penang (CAP) office yesterday.

Penang Forum is a loose coalition of several civil society groups in the state.

The coalition, which includes Sahabat Alam Malaysia, CAP, Malay­sian Nature Society, Women’s Centre for Change, Penang Heritage Trust, Friends of Botanical Gardens, and 25 residents’ associations and management committees, urged the state to halt all hillslope projects immediately.

It also wants the state to amend the 2009 guidelines on “special projects” to explicitly prohibit development on hill lands except for essential public services.

Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui said the Penang Hills Watch citizens’ initiative provided the state government with information on hill cutting it collected from the public.

“In January, this site was the first case we highlighted to the state government.

“Photos of construction and hill cutting there were presented to the state government. It responded that the ‘earthwork is being monitored’,” he said.

Dr Lim said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wrote in the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development in 2012 that local governments were to strengthen their geotechnical units, which process and approve applications for hillside developments, and follow up with strict enforcement.

“It says a monitoring team will be established to ensure compliance in construction and performance (of projects).

“The question is what happened then? Did the state and local governments follow their own guidelines? Or was there gross negligence?

“Such a tragedy could have been avoided,” Dr Lim claimed.

He also said parties like the State Planning Committee, MBPP’s One-Stop-Centre Committee (which approved the project), the engineers, the developer and contractors should be investigated.

CAP vice-president Mohideen Abdul Kader said Penangites’ concerns over hill development dated back some three decades.

“Remember the proposed Penang Hill development which we managed to cancel in the end? What the state must do now is look after the natural resources and listen to the NGOs.

“Public pressure can make a difference,” he said.

Another forum member, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, said the Penang Structure Plan forbade development on hill land 76m (250ft) above sea level or with a gradient of 25° and above.

“But many developers cut hillslopes, making them steeper and less stable.

“The weather is always blamed but there was no rain for the past week. So how did the landslide happen?” she asked.

Dr Kam said the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development clearly state that “if you have a slope … depending on the height of the slope, you need to have a buffer zone that is greater than the height of the slope.”

“From the media reports, the height of the affected slope is 10m, so there should be a buffer zone of 10m from the foothill,” she said, adding that the inquiry should explore this aspect.

Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group adviser Yan Lee urged the developer to conduct studies on improving on-site safety measures and engage foreign consultants to make sure the project can go on safely.

“They should also make sure the deceased workers’ families are taken care of.”

 

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