Penang Forum calls to review Penang mega projects


Penang Forum members paying a courtesy call on Chow, seated at the head of the table, at his office in Komtar.

Revise transport master plan because circumstances have changed

” A new public transport design has to be integrated to encourage walking, cycling and bus uise – Penang Forum”

THE Penang Forum steering committee, a loose coalition of non-political civil society groups, has called on the Pakatan Harapan Penang government to review the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) estimated to cost RM46bil.

It said the Penang government should bear in mind its election manifesto of balancing economic growth with environmental protection and a commitment to improve public transport.

“Given the scale of the funding for this mega project, the state must ensure government procurement produces the best value for taxpayers’ money.

“The awarding process used was based on a Request for Proposal, rather than a true open tender, which did not allow for any meaningful comparison of bid documents as the scope of work was not fixed.

“Hence the award process must also be reviewed and revisited,” the statement read.

The committee also pointed out that the present PTMP was based on the assumption that buses, ferries and a cross-channel bridge were under federal control and there was nothing much the state could do.

“So it did not focus on how these could be improved or expanded. But now that circumstances have changed, the plan needs to be revised,” it said.

The committee also said the planning for equitable public transport should take into consideration the following criteria:

  • Fiscal prudence that should consider cost-effectiveness in construction, operation and maintenance.Detailed financial analysis of different public transport systems must be done and compared. The most cost-effective system should be selected.
  • Other important considerations are efficiency of operation, predictable schedules and systems compatibility.
  • The different components of the transport system must be well connected and integrated, socially inclusive, with a low impact on the built and natural environment.
  • Extensive public consultation at every stage, with plans available for online viewing and download so that more people can view and comment. It must be carried out and the exercise must be open to scrutiny.
  • Independent consultants who are at the forefront of designing equitable, sustainable transport must be engaged to do the review of the plans. They must not be associated with or employed by parties involved in tendering for the project.

The statement also read that the 2016 transport proposal was a mega project put forward by SRS Consortium, the project delivery partner of PTMP, to the Penang government.

“The design and planning fails to meet most of the above criteria.

“The overpriced package includes many components of mega road building that will discourage people from using public transport and undermine the stated goal of increasing public modal share of transport.

“Although public consultations have been held about impacts in specific localities, open scrutiny of the whole design was strongly discouraged,” the statement said.

The committee also said the original PTMP by Halcrow involved public consultation, but the state pressured the consultants to add the undersea tunnel and three highways costing a total of RM6.3bil just before it adopted the plan in 2013.

The SRS proposal costing RM46bil includes a proposal to reclaim 4,500 acres of land (comprising three islands). It departs drastically from the officially adopted 2013 Halcrow masterplan.

“Thus, a thorough, proper and independent review should be carried out to ascertain its suitability, viability and sustainability.

“The massive proposed reclamation will destroy fishing grounds and jeopardise fishing livelihoods and a vital local source of seafood.

“It will be environmentally unsustainable due to expensive maintenance costs required for dredging in the future.

“Promise 10 of the Pakatan manifesto talks of ensuring food security and protecting the welfare of farmers and fishermen.

“Last but not the least, with rapid changes in public transport technology and new trends in info-mobility, it is imperative that any existing plan for public transport should be re-examined.

“A new public transport design has to be integrated to encourage walking, cycling and bus use,” it said.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow was earlier reported saying that the state government would leave the decision to review the components of the PTMP to the Federal Government.

He said this was because the proposal was at the Federal level right now, adding that if there was any need to review the project, the Federal Government could make a decision.

He also said the SRS Consortium would be happy to supply the Federal agencies with additional details. – Starmetro

 

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Call for review of mega project: Penang transport masterplan – Aliran

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Huge landslide in Tg Bungah hill


Disaster zone: An aerial view of the recent landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
An aerial view of the brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian.

GEORGE TOWN: Nobody knew a natural disaster was waiting to happen until Sungai Kelian in Tanjung Bungah turned brown and silty.

The sudden profusion of laterite mud flowing out to sea was caused by a landslide even bigger than the one that killed 11 people at a Tanjung Bungah construction site last year.

But it was so far uphill – 231m above sea level – that Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had to use a drone to find it.

As it was a natural landslide, residents are now worried about the fragility of slopes in the Tanjung Bungah hill range and want tighter scrutiny on the many development projects slated for their neighbourhood all the way to Batu Ferringhi.
MBPP issued a statement on Sunday after discovering the landslide on Bukit Batu Ferringhi, in the forest reserve about 1.5km uphill of a disused Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) intake station.

PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa clarified that the station had not been in use since 1999, after the Teluk Bahang Dam was completed.

An MBPP engineer said the landslide was about 40m long and 20m wide, but geo-technical experts were unable to reach the site to determine what happened because there are no jungle trails to reach it.

A group called Nelayan Tanjung Tokong shared a video on Facebook last Thursday, showing the russet brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian and expressed concern.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Asso­ciation chairman Meenakshi Ra­­man said it was worrying because the landslide happened without any human disturbance.

“It shows the hills in the vicinity are ecologically fragile, and we don’t want any untoward incidents to happen again.

“We hope the authorities will tell us what is being done to prevent further landslides,” she said yesterday.

Former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said he knew the area well and believed that the landslide took place near the source of Sungai Kelian.

“I have always stressed on how sensitive the hill slopes here are. There are many underground springs in the hills,” he said.

State Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the landslide happened in the middle of a forest reserve and experts need time to study the slope to understand how it gave way.

He gave an assurance that the mud washing down the river would clear up in due course without long-term damage.

Zairil also stressed that no deve­lopment had been approved near the landslide area.

“The state government’s guidelines on hill slope development are tighter than those used by the Federal Government. We will not approve developments without pro­per compliance,” he added.

Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mohd Azmin Hussin said that it would be difficult to transport machinery to the source of the landslide for mitigation works.

“There are no access roads and the team will have to hike to the site,” he said. – The Star

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Penang govt rapped over hill slope development


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

 

Engineer: Lives at risk in Penang hill project

 

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

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Absorb New ways to prevent floods


Sponge City: Solutions for China’s Thirsty & Flooded cities

 China’s ‘sponge city’ projects may be worthwhile examples for Malaysia.

“Only about 20~30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the naturual water circulation.– Wen Mei Dubbelaar”

Last week, it was the turn of Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Sungai Buloh to be the latest major urban areas in Malaysia to suffer flash floods (Flash floods wreak havoc in PJ – Nation). Scenes of cars and buildings submerged in muddy water are now almost an everyday thing. The focus should now shift from the bad situations to the solutions.

It was also last week that I attended a briefing organised by civil society groups for Penang and Seberang Perai municipal officials and members. The briefing was on the recent floods.

Later, I came across several articles on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone areas into “sponge cities” to prevent floods and retain rainwater.

The Chinese plan big and fast. It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but it aims to retain 70% of rain in 80% of urban areas by 2020. The sponge concept is set to spread rapidly as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of increased rainfall and floods, and climate change.

The concept figured prominently at the briefing chaired by Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow. Scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the floods.

She contrasted the present situation when rain falls with what used to happen. In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) and into the ground. There was 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water going back to the atmosphere).

The trees and green spaces act as a sponge to absorb the rainwater that infiltrates the soil, preventing the water from building up into flash floods.

Due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with cement and concrete. Now, only 15% of the rain infiltrates the soil, while the runoff has increased to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30%. The sponge now absorbs 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water”. As a result, the water immediately flowed into streams, causing flash floods, even with moderate rainfall.

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling the floods is to reverse the loss of the sponge. In recent decades, Malaysia has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, trees and grass areas into concrete jungles of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car parks.

There now has to be high sensitivity to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, fields and grasslands, and parks. The aim of garden cities is not just to be pleasing to the eye but to be a very important part of development as well.

Now comes the role of sponge cities. The world is applauding the Chinese initiative to counter floods and improve water security by building up the natural cover (or sponge) in its cities.

In 2010, landslides during flooding killed 700 in three quarters of China’s provinces. Last year, rains flooded southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative, which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan. The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • > Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate the ground;
  • > Replacing pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • > Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • > Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 million square feet in Shanghai);
  • > Plant trees on streets and public squares;
  • > Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces; and
  • > Build manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,” said Wen Mei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, in words similar to Dr Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian.

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements. There are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports The Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.

The problem in Wuhan is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building. But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor? So far the cities have received over US$12bil (RM47.4bil) for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, and the rest is from local governments and private developers.

But compare this to the US$100bil (RM395bil) of direct economic losses due to floods in China between 2011 and 2014, plus the human lives lost.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future. Our own governments – federal, state and municipal – should study this option seriously, as the public braces itself for more floods ahead.

– Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Penang Landslide occured days after remedial works started


Cracks at Tanjung Bungah site began in June, Commissioner of Inquiry told

Expert panel: (From right) Yeo, Dr Gue and Prof Ramli arriving for the inquiry.

GEORGE TOWN: A temporary structure supporting a worksite slope in Tanjung Bungah developed cracks in mid-June, a Commissioner of Inquiry heard.

Soil Mechanic Sdn Bhd director Cheah Wing How, who was a sub-contractor of the project where a landslide killed 11 workers, said he was informed by a clerk to carry out remedial works as the granite wall had cracked.

Cheah said his team left after completing the granite works and soil-nailing works to enhance the stability of the temporary slope.

There was, however, no mention when they completed the works.

“When we returned, we found there were pile cap excavation works carried out near the slope.

“We believe there was soil movement that resulted in the cracks on the granite wall.

“We were carrying out remedial works and 11 days into the job, the landslide happened,” said Cheah, who has 20 years’ experience in the field.

Cheah was testifying on the first day of the public hearing into the landslide tragedy by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) at City Hall in Esplanade yesterday.

On Oct 21, last year, a landslide hit the affordable condominium project made up of two 49-storey towers with 980 units in total within the Permai Village township near the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.

Among the 11 killed was site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27.

During the proceeding, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) also presented eight drone videos that showed the slope and the surrounding area after the tragic incident.

SCI chairman Datuk Yeo Yong Poh said they planned to carry out a site visit tomorrow.

He also fixed the hearing to continue until Monday, followed by Feb 8 to Feb 11, March 24 to March 28 and April 18 to 25.

Other members of the commission are geotechnical expert Datuk Dr Gue See Sew and forensic geo-technical engineer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Prof Ramli Nazir.

The SCI was gazetted on Dec 21 last year to investigate the landslide after Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Rahman Abbas gave his consent on Dec 6, 2017, for the appointment of the members of the commission and its terms of reference.

Meanwhile, Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee said the entrance to the Teik Granite Quarry, which is located near the site where the landslide occurred, should be fenced up.

“Anyone can just walk into the site as the safety measure is not up to mark.

“We have voiced our concern to the Penang Island City Council, the Department of Environment as well as the Land and Mines Department,” he said yesterday.

By Chong Kah Yuan and Jo-Leen Wong The Star

Related Links:

Contractors in jitters over temporary slopes – Nation

Boulders slid down hill prior to disaster – Nation

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 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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It’s hard to deny when the effects of climate change are all around us  Andrew Sheng says that from
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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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