We were a bit unlucky today since the lunch buffet @ nasi campur has significantly depleted. It was only 1 o’clock at noon. What was happening? So, we had to request for additional dishes to be cooked. It was good in a way good, since it gave us more opportunity to exchange opinions etc. We were having lunch at Senibong, after an interesting discussions on research collaborations.
On our way back, we discussed about the lack of data integration and perhaps sharing of information on certain major decisions. Take for example a housing estate sitting next to an industrial area. Or some activities well into the buffer zones set by the environmental impact assessment (EIA). Consider an incinerator, or a tyre factory built near the perimeter of an industrial area. Few years later, a local authority approved a housing estate or a commercial area adjacent to those facilities. Few months later, the residents start complaining on the bad smell, poor air quality etc. Who is actually at fault? If the plants complied with air emission requirement, should they be blamed?
On another perspective, I am sure that many of us have come across arguments given on some controversial projects, saying that the EIA has been carried out and all the measures required have been spelled out clearly in the report, and these have been agreed upon by all parties involved. That includes various mitigating measures to reduce the risks due to hazards introduced by the project to the community. Then, when the project completed with many or some of these measures forgotten, would the authority be alert enough to ensure that sufficient and timely actions are taken to ensure compliance?
Risk = Severity X Likelihood.
Severity is the level of impacts due to consequences arose from the new activities proposed by the project. Take for example, a chemical plant with hazards of fire and explosion. If the capacity is large, which is normally the case for bulk chemical plants such as refineries, crackers etc, the consequence can be really severe with the zones of 100% fatalities covering a large area. It may be the case that a school is within this 100 % fatal area. This means that if the explosion at full scale did somehow happen, the whole school and all the innocent school children will end up dead. God forbid, who would want it to happen? Then may be we shouldn’t allow the plant to be built there since the communities have been there earlier !
Then a risk assessment consultant presents to you the other half of the equation, the likelihood. What if he says, the likelihood is 1 in 100 million or 1 x 10E-08. This will make the risk level to be 1 in 100 million fatality per year, which is considered remote. At this level the whole world will accept that it is remote because the universally accepted level of tolerable risk for involuntary exposure to the residential community is 1 in a million fatality per year. Can you accept this? I asked somebody about it and he jokingly said, it is ok if anybody dear to me or I, myself are not among the statistics. See… It is ok, as long that it is not me…
That is why for cases like this, although the risk assessment has been carried out in ethical manner by the consultants and all possible issues have been considered, we still hope that additional mitigating measures are proposed due to the vulnerability level, which is normally further highlighted by societal risks (societal risk is not strictly required in our previous guideline, 1994, perhaps it has been amended? I forgot to check). But the issue is, will we be caring enough to ensure that these additional measures that costs money be implemented, especially when the green light has been given?
Somebody argued. Well, the consequence of flying is equally high (remember MH370, MH17 and QZ8501 ? – No Survivors!). Well, there is a big difference ! In this case it is a voluntary risk. You decide to fly, and you have the option not to. In the case of the residential area in the above case, they didn’t have any choice. Somebody brought the hazards to them.
It is nice if we can have NIMBY (not in my backyard) policy, but not everybody has that luxury.
So, does risk has a meaning after all???