Keeping a close watch on highlands

Keeping a close watch on highlands

MALAYSIA - These days, most people drive past the road leading to Highland Towers in Ulu Klang without even giving the two evacuated blocks a glance.

The two towers are still standing, a haunting and painful reminder of the tragedy of Dec 11, 1993, when a third tower came crashing down after a landslide, snatching the lives of 48 people.

The cause of the landslide was attributed to land clearing, improper drainage of water from two neighbouring housing development projects higher up the hill, and a badly constructed retaining wall that was not checked and properly maintained.

Almost 20 years and more landslides (and deaths) later - not just in Ampang but in other areas and states too - the federal government and state authorities have put in place strict guidelines (which have been revised twice to make them even more stringent) and safety measures for development on or near hills and slopes.

The local authorities have to closely monitor these new projects to ensure that developers stick by the rules and not take short cuts that would be detrimental to residents later on.

They are also tasked with checking and maintaining the safety of existing slopes while making sure that other slope owners maintain their slopes as well. (Some slopes are on private land and owned by developers, companies, and individuals while there are others near condominiums for which the respective condomium management committee is responsible.)

People living on or near hills and slopes too are expected to keep a watchful eye.

Over two decades, because of the rapid pace of development and a number of landslides, people have become increasingly aware of the dangers and are better informed about the tell-tale signs of slope failure, erosion and potential landslides.

"People need to understand that if they live on or near a slope, the risk is always there. If you want to live on a slope, you have to be rich because you have to make sure you have the money to spend on maintenance and repairs of the slope," says Dr Che Hassandi Abdullah, director of the Slope Engineering Branch at Public Works Department (JKR).

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