3 November 2014
Last month landslides in Cameron Highlands killed five people and injured five more. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated to safety. Last year there was a similar incident in Cameron Highlands as well. Why does this keep happening?
One possibility is because there is over development in the highlands. The loss of vegetation, for whatever purpose, be it agriculture or building work, causes rain to rush into rivers which in turn leads to fast rising waters leading to flash floods and landslides.
Any primary school student can tell you that surface vegetation is vital in absorbing rain water. Such vegetation also helps prevent landslides because their roots hold the earth together. This is simple science and you do not need to be a geologist to understand.
This being the case, why do these incidences still occur? Bear in mind that with climate change, rainfall patterns become more extreme with heavier more intense rainfall becoming more and more common, thus posing a greater danger to hill stability.
We have laws that can prevent such occurrences. The Land Conservation Act being one of them. In a nutshell, the law allows for control over any development in hill land. This includes the complete banning of any development on land beyond a certain gradient.
The question is does this law apply in the development projects on Cameron Highlands? And if it does apply, then why was it not properly enforced?
Another law that may be used to prevent landslides is the Environmental Quality Act, namely the provisions in the act for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). This law makes it compulsory for certain projects to have an EIA done. Theoretically speaking if a project poses a danger to the environment then it should say so in the EIA report and this being the case, then such a project should not be allowed to continue. The threat of landslides should surely be one of the considerations.
The problem with the EIA system we have is that it is quite easily circumnavigated. For example the projects that require an EIA are decided based on size. Therefore it is quite easy to circumnavigate the requirement by simply breaking a project up into smaller parcels. Furthermore, hill development per se is not one of the types of activity that requires an EIA.
It is clear to me that such loss of lives, livelihood and homes is not acceptable. We have laws that could be used to prevent such things from happening. It is important therefore to ensure that the laws are as sound as possible and that they are also enforced as strictly as possible.
These are real problems that affect real people’s lives and these are the kinds of things that the government and their agencies should be working on. Instead our leaders seem to be more concerned about using draconian laws to attack imaginary threats.