Arresting the landslide threat


Domino effect: Residents cleaning up after flash floods in Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands, Pahang. The floods were believed to have resulted from the nearby Blue Valley landslide. — Photo courtesy of NGO Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach)

PETALING JAYA: A proper plan to tackle landslides by mapping risky areas should be drafted, says an engineering expert.Prof Dr Edy Tonnizam Mohamad of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) said such a plan must include the different risk factors such as drainage, debris flow, landslides, residential and economic aspects.

Prof Edy, who is also director of UTM’s Institute of Smart Infrastructure and Innovative Construction, called on the public, especially those living in high-risk areas, to be educated on the natural alarm system.

This system tracks slight earth movements that are caused by lanslides or water gushes and provides warning to residents in the foothills.

He said the risk of disaster would be greater if deforestation and land clearing were to take place on higher ground.

Prof Edy, who is also dean of UTM’s Faculty of Engineering, said several mountainous and hilly areas in Malaysia have been identified as being prone to landslides and debris flow, with moderate to high risk.

Unsafe ground: This aerial shot shows the farm at Blue Valley where a landslide occurred following continuous rain on Nov 17. — Photo courtesy of ReachUnsafe ground: This aerial shot shows the farm at Blue Valley where a landslide occurred following continuous rain on Nov 17. — Photo courtesy of Reach

These areas include the central belt of Peninsular Malaysia, Penang and the south, he added.

Its operations director Datuk Nor Hisham Mohammad said the Fire and Rescue Department would be on high alert for any potential disaster involving landslides and floods during the wet season.

He said in the case of landslides, the department would stabilise the situation by denying entry to the zone and relocating victims.

“There will also be priority on the use of helicopters if the affected areas are difficult to access,” he added.

Depending on the situation, the relevant state’s Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team of Malaysia (STORM) would also be mobilised promptly, said Nor Hisham.

In the past few weeks, Cameron Highlands in Pahang has reported landslides and flash floods.

On Nov 18, an overnight downpour caused flash floods that carried mud into Kampung Raja on the highlands. On Nov 26, a backhoe driver was killed in a landslide at Blue Valley near the same village.

Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) president Dilip Martin said the landslides had originated from a nearby farm in the valley.He shared a number of aerial photos with The Star showing corroded hillsides, allegedly of Blue Valley, as well as pictures of the flooded Kampung Raja as a result of erosion.

Dilip called on the authorities to increase the penalty for illegal land clearing that could lead to landslides in the area.

He also urged the Environment Department to step up its inspections there.

“The state and district authorities must study the area before allowing any new development and farming to prevent the destruction of biodiversity and ensure a clean water supply.”

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia president and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said the landslides in Cameron Highlands would pose serious problems to the ecotourism industry.

“The threat, which is more rampant during the monsoon season, could affect the industry negatively,” he said.

Citing climate change and adverse weather patterns, he called on mitigation efforts to be increased to protect water catchment areas in the hills.

“The authorities should also stop giving out permits to more clearing of forested areas or forest covers on hills and highlands,” he added.

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