Expert: Destruction of forest linked to decline in health

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 11 Jun 2019

Unwell: A Bateq child sweating due to high fever sitting under a shelter in Kuala Koh, Kelantan. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: The Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, Kelantan, used to be strong and healthy but the destruction of the environment and their subsistence have left them weak and sickly, said Center for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas.

He said their customary land area covered Kuala Koh, the Kelantan part of Taman Negara and the northern part near Pos Lebir but much of the land had been converted to logging, plantations and mining and they were asked to settle permanently in Kuala Koh.

He added that almost half of the original customary land, especially on the left side of the land, has been cleared.

“As a result, their subsistence base was severely affected by logging, plantations and mining,” he said, adding that Aring and the Felda areas used to be their territory too where they hunt.

“As such, malnutrition was an issue. When they are malnourished, even a minor infection can be fatal. They also fell ill from pollutants in the environment.

“The cause for the spate of deaths was therefore likely to be a combination of preventable issues,” Nicholas said in an interview.

Due to the poor living condition their mental state also declined, he said.

“People have been complaining about the problems for almost a decade.

“All these are happening because the authorities lack the duty and care towards the Orang Asli,” he said.

Nicholas added that before the land was logged and developed, the Bateq community was mentally and physically healthy and was a thriving community when traditional fo­rests were in their hands.

On the 14 Orang Asli deaths there, Nicholas said that while pneumonia was an issue, the water was also actually polluted.

He added that the deaths might not be caused by one factor but could be multiple factors.

Because the current settlement was not healthy or safe, they moved deep into the forest and came out only to meet people

or send their sick ones to the hospital, he said.

Nicholas also raised concern over comments that were made on social media.

A Temuan woman in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, for instance, was told to stay home and not go to work when the outbreak was actually in Kuala Koh, he said.

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