A state official in Malaysia says a landslide that killed dozens of campers last week will lead to new rules to help prevent similar tragedies.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Ng Sze Han, a member of the Selangor state executive council, acknowledged gaps in existing laws on campsite safety. “We have learned from the landslide tragedy in Batang Kali that we need to regulate activities such as camping …,” Ng said, noting that the state government is working to determine all of the camping locations in Selangor.
“This type of healthy activity [camping] should be encouraged,” Ng said, adding that the government will hold a workshop with relevant stakeholders. “[We will] come out with guidelines for better regulations to ensure the safety of everyone.”
Last Friday, shortly before 3 a.m. local time, a landslide covered the campsite at Father’s Organic Farm in the popular recreation community of Batang Kali, about 50 kilometers north of the country’s capital and biggest city, Kuala Lumpur.
Ninety-four people were sleeping in their tents at the time. Before sundown on Wednesday, authorities had confirmed 26 people were dead and seven others missing. The ongoing search was temporarily halted Wednesday due to rain and concerns about safety.
Rescue teams spent much of the day combing through debris with help from specially trained canines. Days ago, authorities said it was highly unlikely any more survivors would be found given the lack of oxygen under the debris and heavy mud. Shortly after the landslide occurred, the Forestry Department ordered the temporary closing of campsites and hiking trails in several states considered at high risk.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the government would provide about $2,200 in aid to families of every person killed, while survivors would receive approximately $220 per household.
Officials say the landslide was triggered by the flow of underground water. A preliminary investigation revealed an embankment of about 450,000 cubic meters of earth collapsed from a height of about 30 meters and covered less than one hectare of land where the campsite was situated.
Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the campsite operating at Father’s Organic Farm told local media that he had inquired about getting a campsite license but was told by government agencies that such a permit did not exist. “It is not that we don’t want to apply but there is no way for us to apply for one,” Frankie Tan said in comments posted by local news website Malaysiakini.
State executive council member Ng said at the press conference that while Father’s had a permit to operate as an organic farm, it did not have a business permit, which it needs in order to collect fees. It’s not clear how long the campsite had been operating on the farm. “At this moment we are not arguing about, are they violating the law,” Ng said. “We will leave it to the police for their investigation.” Local police say they have questioned the campsite’s operator as well as some of its workers.
Ng did not directly address questions from VOA asking if there were any state or local agencies that could have enforced existing regulations and stopped the campsite from operating before Friday’s landslide occurred.
Ng said, “At this moment, we do not have a specific regulation on campsites so moving forward we need to have one.”