PETALING JAYA: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy has confirmed that 14 orang asli in Kuala Koh have died in the past one month.
Waytha Moorthy, who visited the affected families yesterday in Gua Musang, Kelantan, said the villagers had confirmed that 13 people died from May 2 to June 7 while one more person was found dead near the mining area yesterday.
“I spoke to the villagers and they confirmed that 13 people had died. The other person who died was identified as Romy. His body was found near the mining area so the number is now 14.
“Some of them have left their homes and gone deeper into the forest to put up tents. Some of the affected families have also gone further into the jungle.
“When the deaths took place, they were traumatised and those who died have been buried in accordance with their traditional customs,” he said.
Waytha Moorthy said some of the bodies were left on trees, according to their customs, while some were buried.
He said some of the bodies were buried deep in the jungle, which would take at least a day and a half to reach by foot.
The minister, however, said it was unlikely that the bodies would be exhumed at the moment.
“However, I cannot speak on behalf of the Health Ministry or police. We also need to understand the sensitivity of the people.
“They are grieving and we need to respect their customs as well,” he said.
Waytha Moorthy added that the hospital officials would be coming today to conduct health checks.
Those who were suffering from symptoms had already been taken to hospital for check-ups and those remaining in the village would be monitored, he added.
Asked on what could be the potential cause for the deaths, Waytha Moorthy said: “From the conversation with the villagers, they think it could be because of the water contamination.”
In Kuala Krai, Bernama reported Waytha Moorthy as saying that the Pahang Health Department had been asked to monitor the spread of pneumonia outbreak at the orang asli settlements in the state.
He said the move was necessary to prevent the spread of pneumonia infections to other settlements as it was believed that the outbreak began when orang asli migrated from Pahang to Kelantan.
“Kelantan Health Department has informed this matter to the Pahang Health Department to help monitor orang asli situation in the state to prevent the disease from spreading to other settlements too,” he said after visiting 10 orang asli patients at the Kuala Krai Hospital.
Also present was Kelatan Pakatan Harapan chairman Senator Datuk Husam Musa.
Asked if the government would restrict orang asli’s migration from Pahang to Kelantan to curtail the spread of disease, Waytha Moorthy said it had no such plans.
Husam said he believed that the police would verify claims through investigations on the ground to find out the actual situation.
“The endemic broke out suddenly; they were mostly ill and weak. It will be difficult for them to go out and seek help or lodge reports,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the allegations that the deaths were due to contamination of a pond the orang asli depended on as their water source would be investigated thoroughly.
The authorities, she said, would look into mining and logging activities in the vicinity to see if all proper procedures in relation to the environment had been adhered to.
“The government will take stern action against the culprits if the deaths were caused by contamination of the water source,” she said in a statement.