Monday 05 Jun 2023
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 19, 2022 - December 25, 2022

By Friday evening, the death toll from the landslide at Father’s Organic Farm in Gohtong Jaya, Batang Kali, had risen to 21, with 12 still missing, as search and rescue teams scoured through mud, fallen trees and other debris in search of survivors. Sixty-one people were reported to be safe, out of a total of 94 caught in the landslide.

With more than 400 personnel from various agencies such as the disaster management agency Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team (Storm), the Fire and Rescue Department, and other civil defence units, carrying out the search, it is hoped that the death toll does not climb further, and the injured recover in a speedy fashion.

Thus far, Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming has stated that the campsites were operating illegally without the requisite licences, and that the operators only had permission to farm organic vegetable crops. He added that the operators could face penalties of up to RM50,000 and jail time of up to three years.

It has to be emphasised that the enforcement of the law on illegal campsites is only one aspect, it is also important to get to the bottom of things, such as what triggered the landslide, whether it was rainy weather or development in the highlands that caused an imbalance, leading to the catastrophe.

The rainy season started more than a month ago. Indeed, there were mudslides spotted along the road leading up to Genting Highlands in the early part of last week and the road was partly closed due to that.

While it may be accurate to say that the campsites were illegal, was there any warning sent out by the authorities or Meteorological office to inform of the risk of landslides so that the public might consider postponing their holidays?

One news report had newly minted Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Nik Nazmi Ahmad saying the landslide at the farm was due to a slope failure involving 450,000 cum of soil.

These statements only scratch the surface of the problem and do not answer the fundamental question of what caused the landslide. To prevent tragedy, the government needs to have in place pre-emptive measures.

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