KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — A proper set of guidelines for camping activities has been long overdue, industry players and avid campers said, following the tragic landslide at the Father’s Organic Farm campsite along the Batang Kali-Genting Highlands road last month.
With the Selangor government quick to announce plans to draw up an official camping guideline, those polled by Malay Mail said the guideline should prioritise safety to minimise harm during emergencies.
"A camping guideline is definitely a good move to protect both the campers and campsite owners, especially after the recent landslide incident,” said Derick Wee, an enthusiast better known as Derick The Camper online.
"The guideline should focus on safety. [It should include] an early warning system, night watch patrol, an evacuation plan with an assembly point, emergency exit routes, or temporary closures during certain periods like the monsoon season.”
On top of that, Wee said a complete first aid kit should be available at all campsites, while both camp operators and campers should have basic survival skills and first aid training.
Staying alert for potential risks and weather conditions is also crucial for campers to stay safe, the camper said.
"I wouldn’t say camping is dangerous or totally risk-free. After all, any outdoor activities somehow pose some risk. So, it is crucial for camper and campsite owners to be alert at most times.
"[During a] heavy downpour, campers and campsite owners should check the river water condition and level from time to time in case of flood or kepala air,” he said, referring to the phenomenon where water levels experience a sudden surge.
Rescue personnel work at the site of a landslide at the Father's Organic Farm campsite in Batang Kali, December 19, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
But as with all things, there are always differing opinions within a community.
An outdoor adventurer, who only gave his name as KH Yeoh, believes that a camping guideline could be overtly restrictive.
"For me, camping should be in a more natural way instead of so much restrictions. Real campers should be aware of the risks,” he said.
"Instead of creating new camping guidelines, the government or local council or the campsite owner should play their part to alert or update the campers on the campsite condition from time to time.”
Yeoh, who runs a YouTube channel under the handle Wild Wow Explorer, believes that the implementation of the camping guideline needs to be specific to different conditions such as river flow or strength of the current.
"We can’t standardise the camping guidelines to advise campers [that they] cannot play in the water.
"Different rivers have different flows and currents,” Yeoh said.
Anyone who is familiar with Malaysian weather would understand how fickle it can be.
For campers like Ning Eka, that might mean preparing for the heaviest rainfall and hoping for endless sunny skies.
She added that in today's climate, campers should be aware of the weather and risks involved.
"As we all know, weather can change within the hour, which means it’s essential to stay up to date with the weather.
"Weather forecast can’t be 100 per cent accurate. If you hear thunder or running water where you are not expecting it, it's time to move to somewhere safer,” she advised.
"Perhaps danger indicators could be installed at campsites measuring the threat posed by weather and when it exceeds certain levels, campsite owners must automatically shut down sites,” she said.
Ning added that aside from an emergency plan, it might be helpful if camp operators could send campers a checklist of appropriate gear to have on hand and safety precautions during the payment process to educate possible dangers.
A candlelight vigil in front of SJK (C) Mun Choong in Jalan Ipoh for the landslide victims at the Father's Organic Farm campsite in Batang Kali December 18, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Meenakshi Raman echoes the view that the camping guideline should prioritise safety, but should also take into account the climate factor and the group size limit.
"Environmentally sensitive areas that are prone to landslides and slope failures should not be sites where camping is allowed.
"There should be camping guidelines that take the safety factor as a high priority. In determining this, relevant government authorities must declare areas where such camping should and should not be allowed,” the environmentalist said.
She said that while camping and ecotourism are generally viewed as low-environmental-impact activity, a large number of people in addition to heavy rainfall in an environmentally sensitive area could also lead to environmental stresses.
"The Batang Kali incident may have been preventable if there had been monitoring by the authorities of these recreational sites,” Meenakshi said.
"Clearly, no one was paying any attention to such sites and areas.”
Malaysian Camping Association (MyCamp) secretary Tengku Nina Ali said proper communication channels for the new guideline are crucial in ensuring that campers will comply with the rules.
"It has to be written clearly in the promotion, advertisement and booking information [of the campsite].
"Additionally, a display of rules and regulations throughout the camp would greatly help in compliance too,” Nina, who runs an online booking platform for campgrounds, said.
She said it would make more sense if the regulations were to be imposed on camp operators instead of campers themselves.
Campers should also be able to easily look up certifications of campsites to help them make better choices as to where to pitch their tents.
Meanwhile, a survey of 27 local campsites by MyCamp also found that although operators were welcoming of a camping guideline, they have their own set of worries.
Among those worries are getting summonses for not having the proper license or permits, running into trouble with the enforcement authorities, and business going slow because of reduced campers.
The landslide incident at the Batang Kali campsite which occurred at 2.46am on December 16 claimed 31 lives, with 12 of them being children and a one-year-old baby boy.
A total of 61 victims were reported to have survived the tragedy.
In response, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said the state government has yet to issue any order for camping sites in the state to close operations but is now drafting guidelines.