Dilemma of Sarawak natives

LONG KEVOK (Ulu Baram): Sarawak native folks who were uprooted from their original homes and relocated to resettlement schemes built by timber companies and the state are facing a major unemployment dilemma.

A large portion of them are unemployed because there are no jobs for them in the resettlement areas.

They once lived in longhouses deep in the forests where they survived by hunting, fishing, planting rice and gathering wild vegetables.

They had to be resettled because their homes had to make way for logging operations and the construction of gigantic hydro-electric dams.

Over the past two months, The Star visited five resettlement schemes in northern and central Sarawak from Ulu Baram to Ulu Belaga near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border and found that joblessness in the resettlement schemes had reached acute levels.

A visit to the Long Kevok Penan settlement in Ulu Baram last week showed that a large number of the 1,000 settlers had no steady income and survived daily from hand to mouth through subsistence farming.

Long Kevok tuai kampung (village chief) Seman Ngang hoped the state would look into ways to generate socio-economic activities to spur the creation of jobs.

“Our village youths migrate to Miri (350km away), Bintulu (550km away) and Kuching (1,200km away) to find jobs for a steady monthly income.

“There are no jobs in Ulu Baram except in logging camps and oil-palm estates, but the pay there is so low that it is not enough to feed even a small family,” he said.

“There are no retail businesses in the resettlement schemes. The nearest bazaar is in Long Lama, and even there only a few jobs can be found.

“What we need most, besides our birth certificates and MyKads, are good roads and jobs. Our people depend on rice and vegetables for daily survival,” he added.

“During the drought early this year, we had problems finding rice because the padi farms did not produce a good harvest,” Ngang said in an interview through an interpreter.

A Penan youth named Bilong, 28, said he had not migrated to the towns because he had just got married.

Asked how he and his wife survived, he said they tried their luck in planting padi and vegetables and collecting jungle produce.

There were fishes in the deeper reaches of rivers not yet affected by logging, he added.

Baram MP Datuk Jacob Dungau Sagan, who accompanied Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein during the latter’s visit to Long Kevok recently, said the lack of a good network of roads was the main hindrance to socio-economic progress.

“Ulu Baram has tourism potential that can be developed. There are many unexplored regions that have fascinating scenery and natural attractions, including caves and mountains.

“This potential, if tapped, can create jobs and income for settlers. However, the roads are in such bad condition that we cannot promote tourism on a big scale,” he said.

Two months ago, The Star found a similar situation in the Bakun resettlement scheme at Sungai Asap village in Belaga district, central Sarawak.

Sungai Asap is a state-built resettlement scheme housing 15,000 people relocated from 15 longhouses along Sungai Balui affected by the construction of the RM9bil Bakun hydro-electric dam project.

Some 150km inland from Bakun, the same dilemma exists at the Penan settlements of Lusong Laku, Long Tanyit and Long Lidem built 10 to 20 years ago by timber companies to resettle Penans affected by logging operations near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border.

The folks there told The Star that timber companies and oil palm estates paid meagre wages of RM20 per day and preferred Indonesian workers to locals.

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