Friday, February 22, 2013

Living nightmare for Ba Kelalan residents

by Joanna Yap, Posted on February 22, 2013, Friday

CHILDREN AFFECTED: SK Ba Kelalan PIBG chairman Kaya Palong points to the dirty water coming out of water taps in the school.

CHILDREN AFFECTED: SK Ba Kelalan PIBG chairman Kaya Palong points to the dirty water coming out of water taps in the school.

KUCHING: Water taps in Ba Kelalan have been spewing filthy muddy water for the past few months caused by ongoing construction of the Ba Kelalan-Bario road.

Villagers had earlier voiced their strong objection to the route alignment as it would compromise the Sungai Muda water catchment area which provides water to six villages and a primary school.

Now it seems that their worst fears have come true, leaving them caught in a living nightmare with no relief in sight.

The affected villages are Punan Kelalan, Long Muda, Long Kumap, Long Langai, Long Lemutut and Buduk Nur.

It is understood that the local government clinic and SK Ba Kelalan also do not have access to clean water.

The filthy water has raised concerns among locals who are worried for their health and safety as well as the long-term implications of consuming the tainted water.

“There have been many complaints about this. Not only does the water smell and taste foul, it also causes rashes and itching,” Henry Balang Sultan, 62 years old, told The Borneo Post on Wednesday.

He said that the two rivers – Sg Kelalan and Sg Muda – which the villages rely on for water are now polluted. Despite this, residents have no choice but to continue using the rivers for their daily needs.

“We recently wrote to the Health Department in Limbang and Lawas to request them to send a field team to collect and test the water, but so far no one has come,” Henry said.

According to him, many residents were still in the dark over the latest status of the current road construction as they were told that negotiations would be held but only the village headmen and community leaders were invited to attend meetings with the parties involved.

“We also wrote to MP Datuk Henry Sum Agong and YB Baru Bian to highlight the difficult situation we are facing. 
However, we only heard back from YB Baru who informed us that he had written to the various agencies and was liaising with them to find a solution to the problem.”

He said that the residents had filed a case in the High Court to prevent the contractor from building the road.

“I was informed that the first hearing was held on Feb 18, but the contractor’s representative failed to show up.”

Last year, it was reported that a group of villagers had proposed that the road be built through Belingi-Lepo Bunga-Bario instead as it would not only protect the Sg Muda water catchment area but is also a more sustainable long-term solution as it would improve access to fertile areas for farming purposes.

“Sungai Muda River is our livelihood. If it is destroyed and polluted, what will we drink and how will our padi fields and livestock survive? Our padi fields and the jungle are our Lun Bawang legacy and we never want to lose them,” villager Paran Padan was reported as saying.

“We were told that the Belingi-Lepo Bunga-Bario route will cost more because it is 20 kilometres longer than the 42-kilometre Sungai Muda route,” he said.

“However, we believe it shouldn’t be because the route is already there, and only culverts are needed to improve the route.”

Henry, who hails from Buduk Nur, told The Borneo Post that Ba Kelalan residents still wanted the government not to continue with the first alignment as many villagers had signed a petition to support the discontinuation which was 
presented to the authorities.

“We want them to move the road to a better location that will not affect our water supply as this is affecting so many of us,” he said.

Construction of the RM42 million Ba Kelalan-Bario road started on Oct 1 last year and is expected to be completed by Sept 2014.

The project is being carried out by The Royal Army Engineers Regiment under the Blue Ocean Strategy, an extension of the army’s Jiwa Murni programme.

Meanwhile, Lawas MP Datuk Henry Sum Agong left it to the courts to decide on the fate of the Ba Kelalan–Bario road, now that an injunction has been filed by local villagers in the High Court seeking to prevent the road’s construction.

“I have met with those in favour of the road and those against it many times and tried to get them to settle the matter,” he told The Borneo Post on Wednesday.

“Since they have filed a court case, we will wait for the courts to decide. We leave it to the higher authorities.”

The MP confirmed that the contractor was still following the specifications of the first route alignment, instead of the proposed Belingi-Lepo Bunga-Bario route, despite objections from local residents.

~ The Borneo Post

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