The latest landslide to hit Penang at 9.15pm – at a construction site near a small private school and the Lost Paradise Resort, close to the beach along the northwestern coastline of Penang Island on the way to Batu Ferringhi.
Again, it is the faceless migrant construction workers who bear the brunt of the tragedy – four Myanmar nationals are believed to be missing, though there might be others – just as in the two other landslides in 2018 and 2017, when nearly all the fatalities were migrant construction workers.
Migrant workers were believed to be living in shacks or containers around the site. Reports say they were building a retaining wall (see video above) at the site below the winding road around the island. (The city council later said the work had not received a permit.)
Our hearts go out to the families of all those who lost their lives.
Many questions will once again be raised in the days to come, not least about the wisdom of carrying out construction work on or near the sensitive hill slopes of Penang Island.
How effective are existing hill-slope development guidelines, hill-slope monitoring, enforcement (including against illegal construction) and prosecution?
Update: The tragedy also highlights concerns about the road leading to Batu Ferringhi, where high density property development has been approved over the last decade (beyond what the Penang Structure Plan had allowed?) leading to extra traffic load on the road.
In 2015, I blogged about an engineer residing in Batu Ferringhi who warned about cracks that had appeared further down the road leading to the beach hotels. Some of the slopes between the road and the beach below are steep, almost like cliffs. I wrote then: “Residents worry that the supporting infrastructure (eg roads) will be unable to cope with the higher density.”
This puts into the spotlight all those disturbing and stubborn plans for a mega highway (tunnelling through the hills along certain stretches), “paired roads” and relentless property development along the risky sensitive hill slopes of Penang Island – despite knowing the serious risks.
Will we ever learn? Or will it once again be business as usual on the hill slopes once the news fades away.
The following is a statement from Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the Tanjung Bungah Residents Association:
Authorities must inspect and monitor all works on slopes
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) express our shock and alarm at yet another tragedy in the Tanjung Bungah area, near the Lost Paradise Hotel which has claimed four lives yesterday.
The Penang Island City Council (MBPP) has stated in a press statement that the tragedy was the result of the collapse of a retaining wall under construction at the site – which did not have any approval from the authority.
It is indeed shocking that no approval from the MBPP for the retaining wall construction was obtained by the owners who allowed the earthworks, which appeared to be going on even in the late evening.
Clearly, no lessons have been learnt from the tragic Granito landslide tragedy that happened on 21 October 2017.
SAM and TBRA call for an immediate investigation by the Penang state authorities, including the MBPP into this tragedy – and not just treat it as just another work-site incident.
The owners responsible for this fatal event must be taken to task for violating the laws and stern action must be taken with strong penalties imposed, unlike in the Granito case, where the contractors got off with a mere RM35,000 fine.
What is also clear from this tragedy is for the authorities, especially the MBPP to take proactive measures by monitoring and inspecting all earthworks activities on the island, especially in erosion-prone areas such as in Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringi and Teluk Bahang as well as in other parts of Penang.
The MBPP must not wait for complaints or tragedies to happen before taking action, when it is dutybound to act to ensure that the laws are being complied with. Otherwise, more lives will be lost in vain.
Meenakshi Raman is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia and chairperson of Tanjung Bungah Residents Association.