IN the wake of yet another unfortunate accident at a tourist destination near limestone hills in Ipoh, as a local news agency reported on April 8, I feel compelled to voice my deep concerns regarding the safety of such locations. As someone who has regularly followed such occurrences in the news, I am deeply concerned about the safety of tourist destinations near limestone areas. If I am not mistaken, there have been dozens of accidents related to limestone landscapes to date, many of them resulting in death.

The allure of these limestone hills is undeniable, drawing visitors from near and far to experience their breathtaking beauty. However, with each news report detailing accidents like the one in Ipoh, I grow more concerned for the safety of my own family and other visitors.

While I appreciate the efforts of the Perak state government to temporarily close the affected area for expert evaluation, as reported in the April 8 news piece, this raises the question: Are these safety measures reactive rather than proactive? It is alarming that despite the known risks associated with limestone formations, these tourist spots are still open to the public, and we continue to build in these areas.

The statement by Perak State executive council member Loh Sze Yee acknowledging the risks associated with limestone hills is a step in the right direction. However, it's disconcerting to learn that the plan is to have consultations and produce mitigation and safety guidelines. Loh noted that limestone is more hazardous than other (types of) stone or granite. Therefore, it would be foolish of us to treat them the same. This oversight highlights a critical neglect in ensuring the safety of our communities. We have seen several opportunities to inform ourselves of the dangers of limestone hills and stop all developments in these areas, yet authorities do not take heed.

As a concerned citizen, I urge the authorities to prioritise community safety by thoroughly inspecting all tourist spots near limestone hills. Additionally, State officials should consider that future developments do not take place.

Moreover, temples and cultural sites permanently inhabiting these areas must also pay attention to the dangers of doing so. Why can't we evict cultural sites on safety grounds? Take the Buddhist monastery in Gunung Kanthan, for example. I recently read that the monastery is raising funds for their appeal, where the court decided they were not within their rights to inhabit the area. Learning this frustrated me as it endangers them and the enthusiasts who visit. Inhabiting limestone landscapes should not be normalised, regardless of cultural or historical significance.

Furthermore, public awareness regarding the outcomes of safety evaluations and the implemented mitigation measures is crucial. The recurrence of incidents like the Banjaran Hotsprings or Gunung Cheroh tragedies prompts scrutiny of the resolution of past issues. The lack of transparency and accountability in addressing these recurring safety concerns exacerbates risks for visitors and locals alike.

Authorities should also consider empowering locals about the potential hazards associated with limestone formations. They should engage in community outreach and education programs to raise awareness of these dangers. By entrusting locals and visitors with knowledge about the risks and safety protocols, we can collectively work towards creating a safer environment for everyone. Additionally, involving local communities in safety initiatives fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to more sustainable solutions in the long run. Ultimately, safeguarding lives should be paramount, and concerted efforts from all stakeholders are necessary to achieve this goal.

While limestone formations offer breathtaking landscapes, we cannot ignore their potential dangers. We must address these concerns seriously and take proactive measures to prevent further tragedies.

Azlina Din