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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