Rebuilding of homes is painfully slow as allocated funds are tied up in red tape.
It is unbearably hot in the tent, even with the fan at full blast.
Two-year-old Hetty Cristina Naziha’s eyelids are heavy but she just can’t sleep, no matter how her mother cajoles her. Her sisters have long fled the tent, seeking shelter elsewhere.
Though it’s much better than being homeless, it’s getting more difficult for flood victims who have to live in tents while waiting for their permanent homes. The tents turn into furnaces under the merciless sun during the day, and the thin walls offer scant protection from the cold at night.
Hetty’s mother Mariam Majid takes her out to the makeshift kitchen in their camp site where it’s slightly cooler.
“Most afternoons, we sit here. It is just too hot to be in the tent. But even the wind that blows is hot,” says Mariam, pointing at how dry and parched her arms are.
Eight other families live in the tent site at Kampung Kuala Nal near Kuala Krai. It’s one of the many villages that were ravaged by the floods that hit Kelantan last December.
“Our house was completely destroyed in the floods. It was a rented house and we have nowhere to go. It’s too expensive to rent another house,” adds Mariam whose husband does odd jobs.
The floods washed away 1,827 homes in Kelantan, and left a trail of destruction and despair that folks here are still struggling to come to terms with. Flood-hardened Kelantanese had never seen the water rise so high and so fast. “It was even worse than the big floods of 1967,” say the ones old enough to remember. They also say the damage is so much more massive.
The hardest hit are the villages along Sungai Kelantan, especially those in the Kuala Krai district. Three months after the floods, much of the debris has been cleared off but few houses have been repaired or rebuilt. The worst hit are also the most vulnerable – the poor who live in wooden houses that collapsed like cardboard and who are least able to recoup their losses. But even those in brick homes are not spared; some structures still stand but everything else including cars, is damaged.
Even three months of furious cleaning has not scrubbed away the mud. Kuala Krai is stained yellow, with watermarks on buildings and mud residue on treetops clearly marking how high the floods rose.
In badly ravaged Manik Urai, shiny new buntings bearing faces of visiting VIPs stand out amid the dust and destruction. The buntings lead to the five “model houses” which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak launched at the end of January. The Government has pledged to build 138 houses standing on stilts as high as 2.4m for Manik Urai Lama villagers who lost homes. But two months on, the model houses remain uncompleted.
“The contractor has 75 days to complete the houses,” says Manik Urai JKKKP chaiman (equivalent to headman) Che Din Che Noh who wouldn’t comment further on the delay. But he notes that the cost of each house has gone up from RM48,000 to RM55,000.
The Federal Government has pledged RM500mil for rebuilding and RM10,000 per household for repairs but the disbursement has been hampered by bureaucracy. Villagers without land grants are not eligible for funds. Tenants and squatters on railway and river reserve land are also not eligible for aid.
“In Manik Urai, 80% of the villagers don’t have land grants. They have never applied for a grant. Many could not afford to do it. Of the 178 who have applied for funds to rebuild their homes, only 10 have land grants.
“There are 502 households in this area, 138 suffered total loss and 271 need to be repaired. But some have not sent in the forms for funds because of the grant issue,” says Che Din, who has been busy attending meetings with the authorities to resolve the land grant issue and appealing for leniency.
“The authorities should allow the village headman to vouch for the families without land grants. The urgency now is to get the funds so we can start repairing and rebuilding the homes. Otherwise, many will be spending their Hari Raya in the tents. Maybe when it floods at the end of the year, it will be the tents that will be swept away,” he says.
On Sunday, Kelantan Joint Committee on Flood Relief chairman Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed announced that the Federal Government is acquiring private land to build permanent houses for the flood victims, particularly those who do not own land.
In a news report, Mustapa said the Federal Government would build 1,244 permanent houses for the 1,827 households whose houses were completely destroyed in the floods.
“There are 280 contractors in Kuala Krai, so we can do the rebuilding. But first we need the funds,” says Che Din.
The waiting game
Meanwhile, flood victims have to put up in tents. In Kg Guchil, Zakiah Seman, 34, finds refuge under a tree in Desa Sakinah, a “tent city” built by non-profit organisation Al-Ikram to temporarily house 48 flood-stricken families from the nearby villages.
“He is known as our bayi banjir (flood baby),” she says as she cuddles her four-month-old baby whose cheeks and arms are covered in heat rash.
The 50 tents are on the SK Bonggol Guchil’s school field, with a kitchen at one end and washrooms at another. There is also a large tent that serves as a communal hall. Al-Ikram also provides daily provisions and aid for the tent dwellers, and organises activities such as counselling sessions and football games.
There are also those who prefer to set up their tents in their own compounds. Villagers make use of their homes’ remaining structures to fashion makeshift shelters, with strung up tarp sheets as walls and roofing.
In every flood-affected area we visited, flood victims say NGOs and various agencies have been helping out diligently. Most say they have received their Wang Ehsan of RM500 from the government. They also do not lack provisions and aid.
In fact, they say donations are so plentiful some are selling them off.
Now that most of the initial recovery work is done, flood victims’ most pressing need is rebuilding their homes.
The discomfort and displacement of living in temporary shelters is getting to them.
As the shock of their loss wears off, tent-dwellers are frustrated by the delay in getting funds. Those who have savings can afford to start construction but many are without safety nets to deal with a tragedy of this scale. “Al-Ikram has permission to use this land until June. They will give us up to RM300 subsidy for six months to help us with the rent after we move out of the tents. But everyone is also looking for houses, so rent has gone up in Kuala Krai. I don’t know what will happen,” says Norihan Ibrahim, 43, who suffers from cramps at night due to the cold.
NGOs working here, such as Mercy Malaysia and Tzu Chi Foundation, recognise that the tents and makeshift shelters are not suitable living quarters. They have begun building transit homes to provide better conditions for families, especially those with children, the elderly and sick.
“Our first priority is to get them out of the tents. Even a month is too long for them to be living in tents,” says Mercy Malaysia programme officer Rachel Yao.
So far, Mercy Malaysia has built about 90 transit homes for the state’s flood victims, of which about 60 are centred in Kampung Tualang, Jalan Geale and Kg Bekok, which the organisation has unofficially “adopted”. The homes are modelled after the traditional Malay house, with a hall and a room. They work closely with the local community, employing them as builders and providing them with tools to repair their homes.
More importantly, Mercy has also approached land owners to allow them to build transit homes for landless families.
In Kg Tualang, Mercy has built a cluster of 31 transit homes on a plot of private land that is designed for communal living.
Norhayati Ibrahim, 45, and Nurul Syuhaila Yusof, 36, who moved here a month ago are grateful for the shelter and stability these homes have given their families.
“Our landlord won’t let us rebuild on his land. But that was where we have lived since birth. It was sad,” shares Norhayati. To lessen their homesickness, the 10 families from Norhayati’s village requested to live on the same block in the new settlement.
“Thankfully Mercy agreed and we live close to each other,” says Norhayati.
In Manik Urai, businessman Nik Azman Shah Nik Hassan, 56, was the first to move into a transit home built by the Tzu Chi Foundation.
“For two months after the flood, our home was a platform with no window or door, “ he says, gesturing to a concrete platform which used to be the hall of their destroyed home. “We did everything in the open, with no privacy. The living conditions were hard … hot in the day and cold at night,” recalls Nik Azman.
Tzu Chi also employs the villagers to help them in the effort – they are paid to clear the land area and to help construct the units. It takes five days for three persons to build a transit home, and there is an urgency to get as many transit homes up as possible.
Although it is only a temporary shelter, Azman is determined to make it his home. He has tiled the area in the front and the back and will plant flowers to make a garden. “It has been three months and I don’t know how long we have to wait to build our home, so I am making the best of this temporary home,” says the 59-year-old, who has two teenage sons living with him.
But these transit homes by Tzu Chi and Mercy are only meant to last two years.
“The flood victims must move on,” says Yao.