PETALING JAYA - Uncovered manholes and drains are virtual death traps in the streets of most Malaysian towns and cities. And they pose greater peril when submerged under floodwaters.
Children are the most at risk with four-year-old Law Bin Jian becoming the latest victim when he slipped and fell into an exposed manhole in SJK(C) Pei Min in Maran, Pahang, on Tuesday.
The boy was accompanying his mother, a helper at the school's canteen. By the time his mother realised he had fallen in, it was too late.
Four years ago, eight-year-old Chua Soon Lee drowned after falling into a similar manhole in Inanam, Kota Kinabalu, while helping his mother find scrap metal.
A year earlier, six-year-old Nur Fariqah Chandran died after falling into an uncovered manhole next to a playground in Taman Puchong Indah, near here.
The authorities are aware of the potential death traps across the country but have been unable to fix the problem.
Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof blamed the tragedies on the rampant theft of manhole covers.
"The metal manhole covers are often stolen and most areas with such manholes fall under the jurisdiction of municipal councils.
"This is why some municipal councils have switched to covers made of other materials which do not have the same resale value but with the same strength and functionality," he told The Star.
Thieves usually steal the covers to sell as scrap metal.
Fadillah said most manholes were not on federal roads and did not come under the ministry's jurisdiction.
He said the Public Works Department (PWD) continuously checked on concessionaires to ensure they inspected and monitored federal roads.
"Even then, concessionaires may not have sufficient manpower to check and immediately repair damaged roads, and this is where public feedback comes in.
"We have a presence on social media and welcome people to lodge complaints, providing photos and exact locations of the areas," he said.
Fadillah said the standard operating procedure for PWD was to begin an investigation within two hours of receiving a complaint, and settle the issue within 24 hours.
"I have not received reports of uncovered manholes on federal roads yet.
"The challenges we are facing now is theft of metal material like manhole covers, guard rails and signage, besides potholes," he said.
Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government secretary-general Datuk Seri Arpah Abdul Razak said manholes in residential areas and buildings were approved by the respective municipal councils.
"The council should cover drains and manholes to avoid untoward incidents," she said.
Deaths due to uncovered manholes
Jan 20, 2015 - Four-year-old Law Bin Jian drowned after falling into a manhole in Maran, Pahang.
Oct 4, 2011 - Eight-year-old Chua Soon Lee drowned after falling into an uncovered manhole in Inanam, Kota Kinabalu. He was in the midst of searching for scrap metal together with his mother Chua Mui Tse for money to buy a new bicycle.
May 19, 2010 - Six-year-old Nur Fariqah Chandran drowned after falling into an uncovered manhole located next to a playground in Taman Puchong Indah.
Feb 27, 2009 - Koh Siang Lee, 63, sustained major injuries after falling into an uncovered manhole during Chingay parade in Johor Baru. She died nine days later.
Recent accidents related to uncovered manholes
June 20, 2011 - Bukit Aman Crime Prevention and Eradication Department director Comm Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob sustained injuries after falling into an uncovered manhole at the Penang Hospital. He was the state police chief then.
June 1, 2011 - 37-year-old unnamed victim fell into an uncovered manhole at Jonker Street, Malacca and sustained minor injuries. Traders claimed that a tourist from Europe had also fractured her ankle after falling into the manhole a month earlier.
June 6, 2010 - Food stall owner Tan Kim Teck, 53, wanted compensation from the Johor Baru City Council after claiming that he broke his leg and was hospitalised after falling into an uncovered manhole during the Chingay parade in Johor Baru.
June 2, 2010 - Student Kam Chun Hoe, 18, suffered a fractured shoulder after driving into a partially uncovered manhole in Section 17, Petaling Jaya.
May 29, 2010 - Woman identified as Lim, 24, sustained injuries requiring eight stitches after falling into an uncovered manhole at Jalan Wee Kheng Chiang in Kuching, Sarawak.
May 18, 2010 - Woman rescued after falling into a 3m-deep manhole along Jalan Ng Weng Hup, Ipoh after passers-by heard her children crying for help.