Land-clearing or natural disaster? Malaysian authorities debate cause of landslide

Land-clearing or natural disaster? Malaysian authorities debate cause of landslide
PHOTO: Internet screengrab

PETALING JAYA - There is much debate over the cause of the landslide at the 52nd kilometre of the Karak Highway which completely cut off traffic with a torrent of mud and debris.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said that the logs that washed out in the landslide could be a sign of forest clearing.

He however said he would need to speak with the Pahang State Government as they were the caretakers of the Lentang Forest Reserve where the alleged logging occurred.

"I cannot confirm it's logging," he said, adding that it was too early to speculate while an incident report was being prepared by highway concessionaire ANIH Bhd.

The Protectors of Natural Treasures Associations (Peka) president Puan Sri Sharifah Sabrina Syed Akil claims that a 20km logging trail they had found, starting from the Lentang district Forestry Office which passes through Bukit Tinggi and Janda Baik, during an expedition last year was an indication of what was behind the landslide.

They are part of the building of the TNB passageway from Bentong, Pahang to Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan.

The land-clearing projects, she claimed, caused the soil to loosen, threatening the area with mudslides and landslides.

Sharifah Sabrina said the Karak Highway - the highest motorway in Malaysia - was more prone to landslides.

"If forest-clearing activities do not stop, it will become another Cameron Highlands," she claimed.

"These people are very smart. They do not cut (trees) in front of the highway."

"You would not be able to see their activities when you are driving by," she said, pointing out that the logging was carried out under the shelter of hills.

She said her research revealed that some of the land-clearing projects were contracted by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).

According to her, she wrote a letter to TNB in January last year, voicing her concerns and it had agreed to relocate the project.

"I understand the need to build high-tension wires there. However, they (the contractors) were cutting more than what they needed," she said.

Sharifah Sabrina believes that lumber at the forest reserve, which could be sold at an exorbitant price, was behind what she alleged was rampant logging.

The Pahang State Forestry Department however, denied claims of logging activities in the area.

Its director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman said the TNB project had stopped and it was looking for alternatives on how to proceed.

Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said the landslide was a natural disaster unrelated to logging activities.

He said there were was no logging at the area, although TNB had done land clearing to make way for high tension cables.

He stressed that the site was some distance away from the disaster area and the project had stopped months ago.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said, heavy rain over the last few days had caused a water catchment to overflow, picking up sediment and mud which became a landslide.

"I saw an area that had some logging, which appeared quite orderly," he said, referring to an area that had been cleared on the hill.

TNB in an email reply, denied that its projects were the cause of the landslides.

Its senior general manager (corporate affairs and communications) Datuk Mohd Aminuddin Mohd Amin said its two project sites were 780m from where the landslide happened.

The projects were to build a 500kV transmission line from Bentong South to Lenggeng and a 275kV line from Bentong South to Ampang.

"The work to install transmission lines has not started yet," he said, adding that contracts had only just been awarded.

The landslide occurred around 6.30pm on Wednesday, near Lentang-Bukit Tinggi.

The highway is likely to remain closed till Saturday to facilitate road clearing works and it is possible that the water catchment area could overflow again due to rain.

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