GUA MUSANG: Despite a lack of modern amenities and threats from a mysterious illness, the Bateq people at Kampung Kuala Koh are not about to leave their village.
Kampung Kuala Koh Tok Batin Mohamad Pokok said the village does not have proper water or electricity supply, and even as it is inflicted with a mysterious disease that has claimed 14 lives, the villagers are staying put.
“This is where we are from,” the village head said.
Mohamad said the village is shrouded in sadness after seeing many of its people dying within days of showing symptoms such as high fever, cough and shortness of breath.
According to some tribe members, most of those who died were in their 20s and 30s.
Mohamad said he was not sure of the cause but suspected that the Bateq people could have brought it in from Pahang as most of the deceased had come from there.
It is learnt that it takes the Bateq people, a semi-nomadic Orang Asli tribe, about three days to walk from the Pahang border to the village in Kuala Koh.
He also did not rule out the possibility that the sick had contracted the mysterious disease from contaminated water flowing from nearby oil palm plantations.
Mohamad said there was a water cut in the village around April and claimed that they had to depend on whatever they could find, including waste water from plantations, for about two months.
“It was odorous and it didn’t feel clean but we didn’t have much of a choice.”
He said many that used the water also showed signs of illnesses.
He added that while clean water has been restored to the village, many villagers are afraid of drinking it and now depend on supply brought in by aid workers.
However, Mohamad did not point fingers at anyone for the village’s misfortunes.
Meanwhile, state Health director Dr Zaini Hussin said the department is working with neighbouring states Pahang and Terengganu to determine the source of the illness.
“We’re conducting surveillance in these areas as the Bateq people tend to move between one place to another,” he said.
The village continues to be a restricted area to the public amid the operation to search for the graves of the tribesmen.
Search-and-recovery teams assisted by the Bateq people have recovered eight of the 12 graves since the search started on Wednesday.
The village, which is otherwise isolated, is now heavily guarded and entrance is restricted even to aid workers hoping to bring them help.
The police have also exhumed the grave of Romi Hamdan, a Bateq man in his 20s from the village, who died on May 29.
A second post-mortem is being conducted to confirm the cause of death after the first concluded that he had died of pneumonia.