Monday, October 25, 2010

Missing covers a drain on resources

A BLIND man would have fallen into an uncovered drain in Jalan Ipoh last week if not for the vigilance of a biker. If the biker had not shouted out to warn the old man, whose sweep of his cane missed the drain, the latter would have been injured.

The incident occurred along the pedestrian path near SMK Perempuan Jalan Ipoh at the 31/2 Mile. The steel drain covers were stolen more than six months ago but were yet to be replaced.

Perhaps no one complained to the authorities about their disappearance or City Hall did not do a monthly stock take of its steel drain covers even though plenty had gone missing lately, such as those at SK Convent Sentul that were replaced with concrete slabs recently.

Perhaps it is also because of the low pedestrian traffic, the loss had gone unnoticed. Some civic-minded passers-by had used discarded wooden pallets and planks of various sizes to cover some of the holes and this had probably saved many unsuspecting people who used the footpath at night.

Last year, City Hall literally flushed close to half a million ringgit down the drain by using steel drain covers, if recent reports are anything to go by.

A total of 1,382 drain covers worth the amount were stolen last year. The first nine months of this year saw another 1,035 drain covers worth RM331,200 go missing. How many people fell into the exposed drains is not known -- or if any had taken legal action against the authorities for negligence and failure to maintain the safety of the pedestrian walks if there was a provision by law to do so.

According to someone in the scrap yard business, public owned grill drain covers and cast iron manholes have no resale value. They are contraband that will attract trouble with the law if there is an inspection by the authorities.

But there are some small-time dealers who turn fencers by buying such items from drug addicts and petty thieves. All the authorities need to do is to call on the many junkyards that pepper the city and find out who they are.

Of course, the solution to discourage the stealing of steel drain covers lies in concrete slabs that are too heavy to remove and have no downstream use -- yet. However, the slabs are not a concrete alternative. Unless they are reinforced with ribbed steel, they break easily -- especially under the weight of cars and bikes driven into them, or parked with their wheels on them. It will only be a matter of time before replacements are needed.

But concrete slabs are better than fibreglass grilles spotted covering the drains outside this newspaper's office in Bangsar. At least, during heavy rain and the drains overflow, the concrete slabs do not get washed away as one of the fibreglass grilles did some time ago, and which is yet to be replaced.

I wonder if there is a better solution our engineering students at the varsities can come up with or if City Hall has approached the academia for answers.

As we saunter towards a developed city's status, it will be keeping in step to come up with practical town planning solutions and think miles ahead to introduce facilities that are not only environmentally- and people-friendly but also those that need less frequent replacement or maintenance

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monkey trials and tribulations

BACK in the mid-1970s, a coffee farm neighbouring my aunt's in Batang Berjuntai was terrorised by a troop of monkeys. Led by a dominant male, the troop would raid the farm at mid-morning and feast on the ripening coffee berries.

But when the primates also destroyed the unripe berries, the farm owner decided to put a stop to the marauders.

First, he lit firecrackers -- which sounded like gunshots -- to scare away the monkeys.

When the monkeys got used to the sound and played hide-and-seek with the farmer, he trapped one of them.

Then he dressed it up in a red shirt and released it.

When the odd-attired monkey tried to rejoin his troop, the rest were sent scurrying deep into the forest, frightened by the strange-looking monkey hot on their heels.

But after a while, the monkeys returned and when the damage became unbearable, the farmer went after the leader of the pack, a wily alpha male that was soon caught with a snare.

When the monkey bit the farmer as he tried to release it, the latter lost his cool. The monkey lost his head.

The dismembered monkey's head was put on a stake near where the the troop would hang out after their feeding frenzy.

That evening, the cheerful chatter was replaced with eerie wails as the primates mourned their loss.

The monkeys did not return for some time, possibly traumatised by what they saw.

But when they did return a few months later, they not only destroyed the coffee trees, they also attacked farm workers as if in revenge for their dead leader.

Finally, some farm owners got together and hunted them down.

If the monkey menace was confined to farms in those days, today, development is driving them to cross paths with humans.

A friend who moved into an expensive condominium in Taman Melawati a few years ago had spotted a lone macaque near his home.

The animal lover, his wife and 5-year-old daughter would take turns to throw cream crackers off the balcony of their second-floor condominium.

Within weeks, a tacit contract was sealed between man and primate. The monkey would turn up at the precise time each day and it would be fed its daily ration of biscuits.

One weekend morning, my friend heard his daughter screaming excitedly in the kitchen.

When he and his wife rushed in, they caught sight of the monkey they had been feeding climbing out of the window.

The startled animal dropped the tin of cream crackers it was trying to carry away. The experience left my friend's wife shaken and that was the last time she allowed anyone to feed the monkey.

But the primate continued to loiter around their condominium for months. Finally, when it realised that it could not get any more biscuits from the family, it stole from the neighbours.

Forestry experts know best when they say that feeding wild animals is not encouraged.

Whether these are wild boars or monkeys, the wild animals usually have plenty of food in their natural surrounding.

But given the chance, they prefer handouts any day.

If regularly fed, they will appear at the same spot daily at the precise time for their meals.

But when they are not fed -- and some may lose their natural ability to forage for food -- they will not hesitate to intrude into human dwellings.

In the case of monkeys, they often approach those who carry stuff they have associated with food.

We have heard of wild monkeys snatching plastic bags, haven't we?

Most of the time they do not do it out of mischief, I am sure.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let's hope they have learnt their lesson

THE people who put up the telecommunications (telco) tower in the children's playground in Jalan Bangkung, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, must be kicking themselves for thinking that they could fool Bangsar folk.

There is a lesson to be learned here. You just don't mess around with someone else's backyard without consulting them.

There is a Malay saying that goes like this: "Kalau nak masuk rumah, bagilah salam dulu." It basically means knock before you enter.

It's all about courtesy and, in this case, the people who put up the tower did not consult the residents first -- and it is obvious why they did not.

But even if they did, the chances of the tower going up are slim.

Transmission towers are bad news. It is common knowledge that they emit harmful electromagnetic radiation (EMR). There has been enough bad press about them since the first few came up in the city in the '90s when handphones arrived on our shores.

Whether or not these transmission towers emit EMR that can cause cancer or make you senile before your time is immaterial. Seeing one coming up, even if it is a dummy, can easily cause sleepless nights.

No one likes transmission towers in their backyard, especially those who are better informed and empowered, like those living in Bangsar.

Folk here are already up to their eyeballs in the rapid commercialisation of their once quiet residential haven.

The persistent traffic jams, haphazard parking and increasing noise pollution are already robbing them of what little quality of life that is left.

Putting up a telco tower in their playground where they exercise daily for good health is asking for trouble.

Never mind what the experts say about radio communication towers emitting very low frequency non-ionised radiation; unlike ionised ones such as X-rays. Or that the low frequency waves can at worse cause skin burns if one stands too close to a high-powered source.

Try convincing the people who live nearby that such towers are safe and see if you succeed.

Perhaps the Mandatory Standards for Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Emission from Radiocommunication Infrastructure guidelines can address concerns over the potential ill-health effects resulting from telco towers.

The guidelines, which were drafted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), is now available for public viewing at its website at until Nov 15.

With the dos and don'ts spelt out clearly, hopefully owners of such infrastructure facilities will be more mindful of the placement of these towers to avoid giving people living nearby the jitters.

Never mind if the lack of such towers result in poor connectivity on mobile networks and headaches for users.

Goodwill is a better alternative than bad press about one's lack of corporate social responsibility.

Meanwhile, with the removal of the tower, people living in Jalan Bangkung can continue to enjoy their pursuit of good health at the playground.

They are lucky to have the well-informed, empowered and vocal Bukit Bandaraya Residents' Association to voice their grievances.

Folk who live in less privileged communities around the Klang Valley are not so fortunate. Many have to put up with transmission towers and live underneath high tension cables that power the quality lives led by people elsewhere.

Monday, October 4, 2010

KL's unstoppable jams

WHAT does it take to reduce congestion on the roads of Kuala Lumpur? Even with the intelligent traffic management system, which we did not have 10 years ago, the traffic is still unmanageable on most days. Gridlocks threaten to descend on us whenever it rains or when some roads are closed for unannounced events.

With all the technology that is transforming the way we live, isn't it strange that we are still helpless when it comes to dealing with KL's jams?

More than a decade ago, there was a dispute on whether the city could manage without policemen taking over traffic control.

Someone had declared that the traffic lights were enough to do the job and the story went to town. The traffic controllers tested the theory.

Within hours, Kuala Lumpur was like a cat on a hot zinc roof. A point was proven: no technology is good enough when it comes to dealing with the unpredictability of the city's traffic.

After a couple of days of having "jam" for breakfast, no motorist wanted to relive the nightmare. The idea of intelligent traffic lights was put to rest.

But with the city all wired up today, could traffic flow be improved, especially with the electronic eyes monitoring our roads 24/7?

I am asking because if the traffic monitoring centres are to study all the video footages taken of congested areas, I am sure there is enough material to learn how to deal with our infamous jams.

For instance, along Jalan Bangsar in the mornings, the traffic police have effectively reduced the congestion heading towards the city by barricading the turn into Jalan Maarof.

Motorists heading from the city into Jalan Maarof have to make a U-turn at Jalan Pantai.

Previously, errant motorists often stopped in the yellow box and blocked the flow towards the city when the lights turned green.

In the evenings, however, the same diligence is not observed.

From the LRT station to the Jalan Travers-Brickfields junction, errant motorists are allowed to park along the yellow lined roadside in front of the shops. Buses, too, switch lanes at their drivers' whim, joined by other motorists.

Motorcyclists, meanwhile, weave in and out of the traffic from which only a seasoned Bangsar road user can emerge unscathed.

The same bad parking and driving habits are probably causing jams in other parts of the city at other times of the day.

A friend told me that Singapore managed its traffic well because the road users had been taught to respect the traffic laws and fear the consequences of breaking them.

Drivers there know that their movements are constantly being monitored and throwing caution to the wind will cause unnecessary hardship.

When I asked him if we could duplicate the effectiveness of Singapore's traffic management in Malaysia, the chap laughed. Singapore can do it, he says, because it is much smaller.

By the same comparison, can KL not be just as successful given the fact that our city proper is only a third the size of the Singapore?

Maybe our traffic police should not be so lenient with motorists and teach the recalcitrants to respect traffic laws and the rights of other road users.