I REFER to your front page report “Hazard in the hills” (The Star, June 23).
New residential developments are spreading quite rapidly on hills throughout Malaysia. When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Japan two years ago, I felt that living in this environment flushed with greenery would be an amazing experience for me.
Since then, I have discovered that there are very worrying concerns for people living on slopes in the urban areas. There is the possibility of a landslide occurring without warning.
In Japan, where earthquakes occur frequently, the geological conditions and soil composition are very weak. A lot of sediment-related disasters occur every year due to frequent heavy rainfall and typhoons.
As such, legislation and technologies related to slope disasters have been implemented for the past 50 years.
There is a high possibility of landslides occurring within the residential areas on slopes and hilly terrains in Kuala Lumpur. The unfortunate tragedy of Highland Towers, which happened in 1993, is an example.
Having been involved as an engineer in work related to early warning systems on slope disaster for over 10 years, I would like to share my experience in slope disaster prevention and mitigation in Japan and my recent activities with residents and city councils in Malaysia.
Hilly terrains in Kuala Lumpur consist of hard rocks formed during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras. The rocks are hidden under a surface layer that’s about 30m deep, which is subjected to weathering specific to tropical regions.
During the rainy season, this weathering is made worse by the constant infiltration of water. Research conducted by Malaysian institutes such as the Southeast Asian Disaster Prevention Research Initiative of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia have shown this to be true.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to fully investigate the complex influence of weathering in deep ground despite having the newest technologies.
People who live on hilly areas in Kuala Lumpur must therefore recognise the potential risk of landslides in their neighbourhoods and pay attention to any change in the environment in their residential areas.
They must learn to detect signs of landslides by looking for cracks, sinkholes or groundwater springs after a heavy downpour and report to the relevant authorities where necessary.
Residents must also know the evacuation procedures and that it is important to share the basic information of slope disaster prevention and mitigation among themselves, authorities and the experts.
In Japan, a law on landslide prevention and mitigation came into force about 20 years ago.
Under this law, local governments must designate the areas prone to landslide and inform the residents concerned as well.
Data compiled by the rainfall observation network system in Japan, which was developed by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, is also communicated to people through the media.
But despite having this in place, a massive debris flow in Hiroshima two years ago still killed 70 persons.
One of the reasons behind this loss in human lives is the failure of the local government to warn the affected residents before the disaster occurred.
If the residents had received the information earlier, all would have evacuated in time, and no loss of life would have occurred.
After the Hiroshima disaster, various workshops and community meetings were held for the residents to teach them about the hazards of living on hilly terrains.
These activities and programmes can also be emulated in Malaysia. SlopeWatch, a well-known NGO here, has been conducting awareness activities on slope disasters for some time now.
A new community initiative on slope disaster prevention and mitigation has started with some Bukit Antarabangsa residents in collaboration with the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council in Selangor. This must be lauded and supported by the public.
Activities include a workshop where residents can obtain information on the hazards in their area and rainfall data through cloud sourcing.
A special app has also been developed to facilitate the sharing of information and to alert residents of imminent threats in real time. We are supporting these activities and have offered our technologies and experiences to develop the app with a local IT company.
This app can also be combined easily with the landslide early warning system (LEWS) which can be installed at certain sites and buildings.
LEWS is a common system in Japan that’s being introduced by local governments with the help of geo-technical consultancy companies.
It offers early warning on movement of ground and buildings to residents via mobile phones and email.
If the app and LEWS are used in Malaysia, residents will have better access to information in understanding landslides and ultimately avoid catastrophes such as the Highland Tower’s tragedy.
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