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theSun   TELLING IT AS IT IS       

Tue, 09 Dec 2008
WEB EDITION :: Local News
Most landslides can be prevented, says engineer

KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 9, 2008): Most landslides are preventable and Malaysia already has the expertise to drastically reduce the frequency of such incidences, says Dr Nehemiah Lee, a geotechnical engineer and authority on reinforced soil techniques.

Geotechnical engineering is a branch of engineering specialising in assessing the stability and strength of soil and rock materials, as well as groundwater conditions.

Lee, previously with the Drainage and Irrigation Department  and now the managing director of a company dealing with reinforced soil technology, said incidences of landslides were known to geotechnical engineers as slope stability problems.

“The question is whether we are willing to channel resources in terms of expert personnel and adequate funding to resolve the problem,” he told Bernama yesterday.

Referring to calls for a  blanket ban on hillside development following the landslide at Bukit Antarabangsa,  he said it might not be the most appropriate approach to solve the problem.

Lee, who has been invited to speak at many international conferences, said the continued growth in population and increasing scarcity of flat usable land would continue to exert tremendous pressure to develop hilly terrain, Bernama reports.

“Even if the total ban is implemented, the problems remain because there are existing slopes that are not stable. Moreover, slopes that are steeper than 35 degrees may be safe while slopes that are gentler may not be safe,” he said.

He said the stability of slopes depended on a host of other factors besides slope gradient.

They include rainfall intensity and duration in the locality, the type of soil, the geological formation, the effectiveness of drainage system and the type of vegetation growing on the slope.

“In addition, there is still a small element of uncertainty concerning the unknown and unquantifiable factors that are beyond the state of the art of geotechnical engineering professionals,” he said.

Lee proposed that the way forward would be the establishment of a special purpose body dedicated to slope safety management.

This body should be manned by experts in geotechnical engineering and complemented by engineering geologists, soil erosion experts, hydrologists, drainage experts, environmentalists, lawyers, policy makers and regulators.

Its role will be to regulate and audit the investigation, design, construction, monitoring and maintenance of man-made slopes, which include cut slopes, fill slopes and retaining walls.

Besides its regulatory role, the body should undertake research and education, including forensic investigation into landslides.

Its first task would be to work with private home owners’ associations and developers to carry out risk assessment of every existing slope that was a potential threat.

Any slope found to be unsafe should be strengthened to the required level of safety, and defects in the drainage system rectified.

For new hillside development, this body should scrutinise the design, construction and maintenance of man-made slopes to ensure compliance with the highest standard of engineering practice.

Above all, it should be vested with statutory powers to approve or reject any new hillside development so that no town council or municipality would issue a certificate of fitness unless prior approval was obtained from it.

Lee hoped incidences of landslide would be greatly reduced with the setting up of the body and that sustainable, environment-friendly development on hilly terrain could continue unimpeded.

Updated: 02:18AM Tue, 09 Dec 2008
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