The price of hill-slope development

Photograph: Daniel Lee

Aliran is horrified at the news of a landslide at a construction site along Lorong Lembah Permai 3 in Tanjung Bungah this morning.

Fourteen workers are believed to have been buried alive under tons of earth from a cut hill slope. Three bodies have been recovered and a search-and-rescue mission is ongoing.

While the cause for the landslide is as yet undetermined, this disaster must make the state government and the people of Penang stop and reassess hill-slope development in Penang. The number of victims indicates the gravity of this disaster.

Who will bear responsibility for what has happened? How do we account for the loss of life? Who are these workers who have died? What are their names? How old are they? Where are they from? What are their families being told? No amount of compensation can bring back lost lives or the ruined futures of the families of these men.

Photograph: Daniel Lee

If the construction of this project (reportedly a residential tower block project) is so unsafe, how safe will it be for those who will eventually occupy the completed homes or for those who live around the finished project? Who will be responsible for their safety?

All quarters need to reflect on the environmental degradation which has taken place here and elsewhere in Penang as other hill-slope cutting and development continues.

This disaster also raises questions of unsustainable development, of a development model that seemingly puts profits above people.

Aliran joins with others in the call for a stop to all hill-slope development in Penang above the stipulated ecological and safety thresholds. Development control guidelines and planning approvals have to be tightened, and firm action must be taken against those who do not comply with these guidelines.

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Development that compromises people’s health and safety and endangers lives is unacceptable.

Aliran executive committee

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