PETALING JAYA: More efforts should be made to find out the cause of the mysterious illness plaguing the Orang Asli of Kuala Koh, says Eco World Foundation chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
He was responding to reports that tests by the Department of Environment (DOE) on water samples found near a manganese mine and Orang Asli water catchments in Kuala Koh showed that the samples were free of contaminants and chemicals, such as pesticide and herbicide.
Lee said it was important to find out the cause of the illness to prevent more occurrence of it among the Bateq people of Kampung Kuala Koh.
“I believe that the spate of deaths among them could be prevented and would not recur if both the federal and state governments had taken all the necessary measures to maintain their health and welfare,” he said in a statement yesterday.
He said there should be efforts to increase the Bateq people’s access to facilities such as health and education.
“Most of the Orang Asli in the remote areas are still living in poor conditions which made the indigenous people susceptible to diseases.
“Based on my experience when organising programmes in the Orang Asli settlements (around the country), most of them want to have a better life with basic facilities in their areas,” he said.
He said the government must also consider the proposal made by various parties that there be moratoriums on activities that pose threats to the Orang Asli, including logging and mining.
Indigenous people in the country should have equal rights to health and education as other Malaysians, he said.
Sustainable Development Network Malaysia also urged the government to find the root cause to the mysterious illness.
Its chairman Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah said there needed to be thorough examination of the impact of mining and plantation activities on the health of the Bateq people before the government ruled out the activities as contributors to the illness.
“All reported sampling and tests were from surface water sources. The current tragic situation started more than a month ago.
“Would it be logical to depend on surface water that has since diluted and washed off whatever toxic elements from mine or agrochemicals from plantations (should there be any)?” he asked.
He urged the authorities to be “unbiased and open minded” in leading the investigations.
“This tragedy involves many lives,” he said, adding that the uncertainty over the cause of deaths may require an inquest to be carried out to determine the cause.