When Mother Nature shrugs

THE weekend of Nov 5 turned out to be an unsettling one for many of us who call Penang home, as Mother Nature decided to take matters into her hands.

Living in Kuala Lumpur, my weekend turned out to be one with minimal sleep, worrying and praying, checking on family and friends back home, monitoring social media pages of the chief minister and state government while forwarding relevant information to those in need.

However, that was nothing compared to what those in Penang had to endure; it was heart-wrenching to say the least.

I commend the state government, its assembly representatives and two local councils. Everyone has been working tirelessly.

Times like this call for leaders who put the people's welfare first and who are willing to be on the ground getting their hands dirty.

It was refreshing to see politicians putting aside differences and working together. Adversity does unite people, at least for awhile. How often do we get to see Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi embracing each other?

Lim's distress call to Zahid at 3.30am got an immediate response and help was on its way. But why does it take calamity to get our politicians to work together.

Why can't they put their heads together to resolve pressing matters on a day-to-day basis?

The chief minister claims that RM1 billion required for flood mitigation projects announced under the previous five-year plan has yet to be released by the federal government.

Lim said that the flood was a natural disaster and had nothing to do with development. He couldn't have been more right.

However, Penang has another issue to address – landslides. During my last visit to Penang a few weeks ago, my hairdresser showed me a picture that was taken at the site of the Tanjung Bungah tragedy, sent to her by a relative who was at the site. Little did I expect then that worst was to follow.

On visits to the mainland every few months, I am always greeted by new developments. This speaks volumes of progress in Penang, the second smallest state in the country by land mass.

Komtar state assemblyman Teh Lai Heng was reported saying that stopping hillslope development and land reclamation will result in scarcity of land which in turn will lead to property price hikes.

He questioned if people would still be able to own property should that happen. He said the state government should shift its focus to the mainland where there is still land available.

I agree with him on shifting the focus to Seberang Prai where there is more land. Commuting between the mainland and island, to be frank, does not take long, except during peak hours when the traffic jam is bad.

However, I do not agree with the notion that stopping hillslope developments may result in an increase in property prices.

Affordability should not be given precedence over safety while environmental sustainability should not be compromised in the name of development.

Development is important, especially for an economic hub like Penang, but at the same time it is also important to ensure that it is sustainable and safe.

Ragananthini reports on business with theSun. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com