The responsibility of protecting the environment rests in the hands of the municipalities, which often are not forthcoming
This column talks about our environment’s state from the observations of an ordinary citizen who has seen so much destruction growing up in the city. I frequently escape to the forests and hills’ greenery, the cool dip of the rivers, and even diving into clear blue sea waters.
The realisation that my grandchildren’s future and that of their children is being threatened by the destruction of the environment by unscrupulous developers and the authorities who allow it to happen makes me want to spread this much-needed awareness.
As a person who lives in the cool hills of Bukit Antarabangsa in Selangor, made infamous by the neglect of authorities in the past to ensure sustainable development and consequent neglect of maintenance, we have seen enough of destruction and disaster in our community to let it continue unchecked.
Many remember the tragedy of Highland Towers in 1993 that killed 48 persons, followed by the landside near Impain Selatan in Bukit Antarabangsa that destroyed 14 houses and killed 10 people in 2008.
The community took the initiative to set up Slope Watch. It is led by two resident experts committed to ensuring earth movement monitoring, landslips and gathering valuable data to implement sustainable best practices to prevent further destruction to the already fragile landscape and soil conditions.
Sadly, not many funds were given to continue to do much-needed research to support the need to have sustainable development. Instead, developers are given the permit to build massive buildings for office blocks and shopping complexes because it is their own piece of property, and they can do anything with it.
While we are not against development, the permit to build anything must be supported by independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and other conditions stipulated by law. The Soil Structure Report, which is critical in a hilly and slope area where this project is to be developed, must be provided to the residents transparently.
A disaster waiting to happen
A case in point is the development at Lot 850 at the junction of the MRR2 and Jalan Wangsa 1 at the base of the Bukit Antarabangsa hill’s slope. The clay loam soil condition is sensitive, with many underground channels or streams running.
Thus, the soil itself is generally porous in nature. Not much research has been done to determine its sensitivity to massive development that can cause earth movements and alter the underground water flow.
Due to the frequent and heavy rainfalls, the usual water flow from streams into the drains by the roadside of Jalan Wangsa 1 has swollen with the resultant overflow of mud onto the sloping road.
This is a clear sign of imminent danger and disaster waiting to happen shortly. As the rainy season is not yet over, it is anyone’s guess.
The community here comprises those from the middle- and upper-income group, well-educated besides reasonably informed. They make no qualms about their stand on the environment and the importance of sustainability.
Meetings were held with authorities and developer since 2015. A notice was put up to announce the project and obtain feedback from the community. A committee called the Bukit Antarabangsa Lot 850 Task Force (BATF) was set up as suggested by the then Member of Parliament (MP) and State Assemblyman.
The BATF and resident committee’s few engagements with the developer and the municipality proved frustrating for the developer company. Many questions were raised on the EIA report, which was considered unnecessary. The TIA was presented in a manner that did not convince the residents. It was at best an insult to the intelligence of the residents.
As a result, the residents managed to bring this up to the Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Selangor (MTES), which resulted in the then menteri besar declaring that the project has to adhere to many conditions before approval to the plan is given.
Fast forward to 2020. Following a sudden change in the federal government, although the State government remained intact, the residents were in disbelief when confronted by site preparation activities at Lot 850 involving earthworks that cleared away massive chunks of permanent forest reserve.
The resident committee was dumbfounded as there had been little or no clear communication from Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ), despite several letters seeking clarification on the issue. On this point, I feel there is a real need to plug any loopholes in the relevant laws that will compel the authorities to respond to any queries by residents so that they will be well informed.
Municipalities should be more responsible
On the first week of the commencement of earthworks, a huge tree fell on to the MRR2 highway disrupting traffic. This was an unmistakable sign of worse things to come.
Imagine the living nightmares for residents of Bukit Antarabangsa who must use Jalan Wangsa 1 daily, one of only two main road entrances and exits to their homes.
This is even more frightening to residents of Villa Sri Ukay, situated just next to the project.
The heavy rainfall in early December 2020 had caused massive volumes of mud to gush out of the forest on to Jalan Wangsa 1. A cursory look pointed to the exposed soil caused by the forest clearing and earthworks at the foothill. There could not be any other explanation for this unprecedented incident.
Undoubtedly, this compels a holistic review of the planned magnitude’s slope development with its inherent risks to all present and future residents. For this purpose, the coordinator of the constituency of Bukit Antarabangsa took the initiative to set up a special committee to seek solutions by engaging with the developer and the MPAJ.
Imagine the shock when primary conditions for the project’s commencement remain unfulfilled by both the developer and the municipal council. During the developer’s meeting, many questions remained unanswered as they chose to leave that to the discretion of the MPAJ.
And that is what the next course of action will be. This issue is typical of many such developments throughout the country. The responsibility of ensuring the safety and welfare of communities rest in the municipalities’ hands, which is not forthcoming more often than not.
The protective support expected of our elected political representatives is equally wanting in these affairs. Bukit Antarabangsa residents, as in several other communities in the country, have to take the proactive lead to keep in check the proper role of its representatives.
We have to also ensure the competent authorities duly exercise their obligation to the public before approving development and the critical, pre-emptive monitoring of environmental issues before it becomes more costly in human and economic terms or becomes irreversible.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make known our unequivocal stand as we do not own this world – we are only taking care of it for them. — @Forest
THE GREEN DUDE is just that – a dude who has seen so much irresponsible destruction of our environment and is yearning to return to a more balanced world that is green and sustainable. Living on the hills of Bukit Antarabangsa, although its infamous reputation has made him realise how fragile it is but is confident that it is not a lost cause with the help of a well informed and active community.