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Phuket opinion: lax standards led to mudslide deaths

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Phuket opinion: lax standards led to mudslide deaths | Thaiger

PHUKET: Like so many accidents in Phuket, the fatal mudslide at a building site in Patong earlier this month could have been prevented if any of the parties involved – developer, contractor and local officials – had done their jobs professionally. (See front page story in the June 12-19 issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here.)

If the lives of the two men buried alive are not to be lost in vain, responsible officials in every local administrative body on the island must see this tragedy as a wake-up call.

They must take immediate steps to identify dangerous projects in areas under their control and ensure that safety and environmental protection measures specified in environmental impact assessments are strictly adhered to.

The timing of the mudslide comes as no surprise, falling during the first period of sustained heavy rains to hit Patong this year – and just days after the provincial government recognized the threat of landslides there by announcing Phuket’s first-ever “landslide preparedness drills”, to be held in Patong on June 28 and 29.

Whatever the outcome of those drills, disaster response is simply no substitute for disaster prevention.

A closer look at the project site after the disaster revealed that the contractor did take some action to prevent erosion, such as laying out plastic sheeting to minimize the impact of rain on exposed soil, and constructing a retaining wall, against which, paradoxically, the Thai foreman and at least two Burmese workers were eventually trapped when the mud slammed onto them.

However, the presence during a torrential downpour of heavy equipment on up-slope, terraced areas gouged out of potentially unstable ground suggested that completing the project quickly – not safety – was the primary concern.

It is difficult to imagine the horror of being buried alive, which in most cases does not cause instant death but a slow and painful passing due to suffocation.

As in a similar tragedy in Patong in 2008, most of the victims were Burmese laborers, who despite their generally excellent work ethic are considered little more than expendable ‘factors of production’ by many in the local building industry.

The monsoon season is just beginning and there are numerous other sites around the island at risk of bigger, and possibly more catastrophic, landslides.

Sadly, many elected officials in Phuket’s highest risk areas seem to spend more time lobbying against the ban on construction on plots more than 80 meters above sea level (and ignoring obvious violations) than they do ensuring the safety of construction they have authorized.

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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