Friday, July 31, 2009

Thousands of Penan starving

Famine has hit about 3,000 Penans in Belaga following crop failure in four of the five major settlements, and they are crying out to the government to help stave off the threat of starvation.

Deputy Minister of Rural and Regional Development Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun said this in a press conference in Miri following a visit by Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin to Lusong Laku settlement on Wednesday.

“There are 264 doors (households) in the Penan settlements here, and only Lusong Laku has good harvest which is shared with the rest who have run out of food, mostly tapioca, some months back,” Entulu said in a press conference in Miri yesterday.

“They are facing famine in the past two to three months, relying on tapioca, wild sago and jungle produce but supply has already run out and we

have to do something until their next harvest in February next year,” Entulu added.

According to Entulu, the affected areas are Lusong Laku with 102 doors, Long Abit (24), Long Kajang (22), Long Tanyit (44), Long Malin (52) and Long Laden (20). Each door has an average of 15 family and extended family members.

He said the settlement chiefs met him in Lusong Laku on Wednesday to air their needs and problems, particularly hunger due to scarcity of food in their areas.

Some even came knocking on the door of the headmaster of SK Lusong Laku, begging for food in the morning, he said, adding that their problem was made worse by fast disappearing wild sago and wild game meat while their small isolated padi farms were wiped out by equally hungry marauding monkeys and wild boars.

Lusong Laku is about six hours’ drive from Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme or 11 hours from Bintulu.

Entulu said he was shocked by the extent of food scarcity faced by the Penans there, saying he would be bringing this matter up in his ministry and liaise with Women, Children and Community Minister and State Welfare Director for assistance to be channeled there.

“I will also bring this up to our party (PRS) president to start the ball rolling by soliciting public donations through our party branches in Miri, Bintulu and Sibu, starting with a function in my constituency on Aug 1,” he said.

The deputy Minister said he would also seek the help of the Ministry of Defence to assist in logistic support for this humanitarian cause of sending relief assistance to Belaga.

According to him, accessibility is a big and costly problem. A trip by a 10-wheeler lorry from Bintulu costs RM5,000, while a three-tonne lorry and a 4 WD-vehicle hire would cost RM1,500 and RM700 respectively. Multiply this against the food required to sustain the 3,000 Penans for six months is a logistic nightmare to this remote settlements.

He suggested that assistance be in the form of cash and rice.

His ministry, he said, would be involved in the longer term solution to this Penan predicament, saying the government was sensitive to their needs and welfare.

Entulu suggested that shotguns be made available to the Penans to help them protect their farms from wild beasts while the Agriculture Department step in to assist in a bigger scale padi plantation in a common area.

On another pressing matter there, Entulu had requested a logging company there for a two-month reprieve to resolve the issue of the disputed bridge across the river to Lusong Laku.

Apparently, the company has decided to demolish this vital lifeline and machinery were already on site. However, the deputy Minister is hoping to work out a solution in the interest of the 3,000 Penans who are depending on it for easier accessibility across the swift flowing river.

“It costs about RM1 million, and I will be bringing it up in my ministry when I return to KL next week,” he said.

Meanwhile, he has also approved allocation of RM100,000 for building materials of three of the Penan settlements there.

Deputy Home Minister Jelaing Mesat also approved over 100 birth certificates and 200 identity cards for members of the Penan community.

Related posts:
* Penan Women Sexually Abused By Loggers
* No holistic plan to upgrade the Penans

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The Federal Government has allocated RM10 million under the current stimulus package for rivers' clearing programme in Sarawak, revealed Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas. With the uncontrolled rate of development and deforestation in the remote areas, even with RM100 million may not be enough. The river clearing programme will take a few months to complete. And this is only physical clearing. There is no mention of educational aspect and long-term planning to ensure the rivers are maintain clean.

He said the river clearing programme would have to be completed by the end of the year.

"For Sarawak we initially allocated around RM10 million. We will increase the allocation as and when it needed," Uggah told Eastern Times at the sideline of the official opening ceremony of the new DUN complex here last Monday.

When contacted, Controller of the Sarawak Rivers' Board (SRB), Mohd Yakup Kari, welcomed the announcement.

"We need to clear many of our rivers especially of ship wrecks from our river system. A lot of money is needed to salvage not less than 160 of such wrecks," he said.

Equal emphasis would also be given to address siltation and clearing the rivers of floating logs," he said, citing Engakari River in Batang Ai and Balleh River in Kapit as rivers which needed constant cleaning and clearing.

On the flood mitigation projects to be implemented in Kuching, Uggah said the projects had been offered to the contractors including the telementary works.

"The channel project is going on as scheduled. As for the Sibu flood mitigation programme, only two more projects are waiting for the Tender Board's decision," he said.

Related posts:
* Siltation killed fish at Batang Rajang
* Sibu flood mitigation plan is not going anywhere
* Siltation in Rajang River due to heavy deforestation

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This is just pathetic. Ninety-five per cent (95%) of families in the country are finding it hard to cope with the rise in food prices. National Population and Family Development Board director-general Datuk Aminah Abdul Rahman said this was revealed in an opinion research survey conducted in 2008 on the impact of inflation on families.

“Some 44% of women in the lower-income group also said that misunderstandings arose over finances due to the increase,” she said in her speech after launching a family finance management programme here yesterday.

Aminah said there were also complaints of harassment from loan sharks and bank warnings issued to families for failing to pay their loans just because they did not know how to manage their finances.

Participants of the programme learnt to differentiate between their wants and needs when managing their household budget.

Family Development Department head Fauwas Hasbullah said the programme was organised to educate the public on how to live within their budget without having to borrow from loan sharks.

“Through interactive activities, participants get to play the role of a family member and learn how to manage money as a family,” he said.

The programme will be held nationwide until the end of this year with the help of Bank Negara’s Counselling and Credit Management Agency.

A participant, Syahizwan Osman, 25, said the programme taught him how to manage his income in an orderly manner.

“It will take some time for me to change but this programme is a kick-start for me to make changes in my lifestyle one step at a time,” he said.

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