PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Uncovered manholes and drains are virtual death traps in the streets of most Malaysian towns and cities. And they pose greater peril when submerged under floodwaters.
Children are the most at risk with four-year-old Law Bin Jian becoming the latest victim when he slipped and fell into an exposed manhole in Maran, Pahang, on Tuesday.
The boy was accompanying his mother, a helper at a school canteen. By the time his mother realised he had fallen in, it was too late.
Four years ago, eight-year-old Chua Soon Lee drowned after falling into a similar manhole in Inanam, Kota Kinabalu, while helping his mother find scrap metal. A year earlier, six-year-old Nur Fariqah Chandran died after falling into an uncovered manhole next to a playground in Taman Puchong Indah.
The authorities are aware of the potential death traps across the country but have been unable to fix the problem.
Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof blamed the tragedies on the rampant theft of manhole covers.
"The metal manhole covers are often stolen and most areas with such manholes fall under the jurisdiction of municipal councils.
"This is why some municipal councils have switched to covers made of other materials which do not have the same resale value but with the same strength and functionality," he told The Star.
Thieves usually steal the covers to sell as scrap metal.
Fadillah said most manholes were not on federal roads and did not come under the ministry's jurisdiction.
He said the Public Works Department (PWD) continuously checked on concessionaires to ensure they inspected and monitored federal roads.
"Even then, concessionaires may not have sufficient manpower to check and immediately repair damaged roads, and this is where public feedback comes in.
"We have a presence on social media and welcome people to lodge complaints, providing photos and exact locations of the areas," he said.
Fadillah said the standard operating procedure for PWD was to begin an investigation within two hours of receiving a complaint, and settle the issue within 24 hours.
"I have not received reports of uncovered manholes on federal roads yet.
"The challenges we are facing now is theft of metal material like manhole covers, guard rails and signage, besides potholes," he said.
Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government secretary-general Datuk Seri Arpah Abdul Razak said manholes in residential areas and buildings were approved by the respective municipal councils.
"The council should cover drains and manholes to avoid untoward incidents," she said.