Tuesday, July 23

Sungai Asap in need of overhaul


The police station at Sungai Asap township.

SK Batu Keling at Sungai Asap township.

Pemanca Tony Kulleh

The ongoing construction works on the treated water distribution tank.

A section of the new water treatment plant for Sungai Asap near Sungai Koyan.

The town’s commercial centre.

Umek points at the intake point at Sungai Koyan water treatment plant.

A popular eatery at the township.

The water intake point is too close to Sungai Koyan riverbank, causing the treatment plant to be affected by sedimentation and siltation.

BELAGA: Two decades after leaving their ancestral lands and having settled down at Sungai Asap here, the resettlers affected by the mammoth Bakun hydroelectric power (HEP) dam now have a wish list that they want the government to resolve as soon as possible.

Two of Sungai Asap’s key community leaders – Pemanca Tony Kulleh of the Kenyah community and Pemanca Umek Jeno of the Kayan community – have outlined at least 12 wishes, namely:


1. Change of name from Sungai Asap to Apau Koyan

The community leaders and people here wanted the name of Sungai Asap to be changed to Apau Koyan.

“In Kayan language, ‘asap’ means dirty. Koyan is a much preferred option as this area is, in fact, situated near Sungai Koyan,” said Tony.


2. Water treatment plant

Umek brought Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT) 7 to the source of the water woes at Sungai Asap where they learned that the core issue affecting the new treatment plant was at the intake point.

Although the new plant is expected to be completed early next year and should be able to supply sufficient treated water to all the people in the area, the quality at the intake point must be addressed.

“What we have recommended is for the intake point to be extended to the middle of Sungai Koyan so that even at low water level, the raw water from the river channelled into the treatment plant will not be polluted by sedimentation or siltation along the riverbank,” he said.

Currently, the intake point is right at the riverbank – when the water level is low, sedimentation would be automatically sucked into the treatment plant.

“As such, we have recommended that the government look into this matter urgently because upon the completion of the plant early next year, the quality of water that we consume would not be compromised,” he added.

Umek also recommended that the government would change all the galvanised pipes in each household to PVC pipes to ensure water quality.


3. Electricity

Tony stressed on the urgency for rewiring works on the 15 longhouses as the wires had ‘gotten too old’ and could lead to fire outbreaks.

He also pointed out that electricity connection to their farm houses was crucial because the lack of which had discouraged locals from developing their land where they could rear farm animals like ducks and chickens, or plant crops to improve their economic standing.


4. Curbing drug abuse

According to Tony, a surge in the number of drug addicts in Sungai Asap is causing concern among parents and teachers.

“In my longhouse, at least 30 drug addicts have been identified. I have been told that the drugs are supplied by foreigners working with the locals, to distribute and sell even to schoolchildren,” he said.

He also hoped that the police would increase their presence at the resettlement area to keep watch over the 15 longhouses. Presently, there are only four police personnel attached here.


5. Citizenship

There is an urgency to address the issue of indigenous people without Mykad. Out of some 20,000 Kenyahs, Tony disclosed that at least 10 per cent are still holding the ‘red and green Mykads’, indicating that they are just permanent residents.

Tony hoped that the National Registration Department (NRD) could go to the ground to verify their citizenship status.

“I am just speaking on behalf of the Kenyahs. I am sure the other ethnic groups here are also facing the same issue,” he said.


6. Land

Tony demanded that the government would issue titles for land cultivated by the locals.

“Also, titles should be given for Native Customary Rights (NCR) land not submerged by the Bakun HEP dam to the locals; the over 20 islands in the Bakun lake should be given back to the respective longhouses, which used to be located near these islands,” he said.

“The government has also promised to issue titles for ‘Tanah Payung’ (communal land around longhouses) to be under the authority of the village security and development committee (JKKK) of various longhouses,” he added.


7. Healthcare

The government is urged to upgrade the only health clinic here to a polyclinic, with haemodialysis machines and a mortuary to better the serve the locals.

“The haemodialysis machines are needed by patients suffering from diabetes and kidney problems. There are some 30 people from the 15 longhouses who require the medical service at the moment,” Tony said, pointing out the current hassle of patients having to travel to Bintulu for treatment.

“There is also no proper storage place for dead bodies here. A small one (mortuary) set up at the clinic would do,” he added.


8. Leadership

The community leaders of Sungai Asap also urged the government to appoint a Temenggong for each of the major ethnic groups of Kayan, Kenyah and Kajang.

“It would be better for each ethnic group to have a paramount chief, being the custodian of the law, as well as to administer matters pertaining to their traditions, customs and culture of their respective community, which differ from one another,” Tony explained.

“We don’t want to quarrel over such matters. We want to be united and effectively implement matters related to tradition and customs,” he added.


9. Mobility

Tony requested that the government would subsidise the operations of express boats to benefit the people residing around the Bakun lake, namely the areas of Sang Anau, Long Jawe, Long Bulan and Naha Jale.

“This will enhance the mobility of the people as well as the development of this area,” he said.

For the safety of children who now ride on the back of trucks to get to school, Tony suggested government subsidies for school bus operations in the resettlement scheme to transport the students to the two schools here.


10. Sports facilities and technical institutions

As this is a unique resettlement, Tony urged the government to provide locals with a multipurpose court at each longhouse for the young people to play and train in various sports such as football, futsal and badminton.

“This will also prevent them from (being involved in) illicit activities and thus, reduce or eliminate social problems,” he said.

Moreover, he added that setting up a technical institution could help the many school dropouts to learn and equip themselves with skills and knowledge that would enable them to work, especially now that the Bakun and Murum dams have been built.


11. Digital economy

Supporting the government’s vision on transformation through digital economy, Tony pointed out the importance of setting up the eco-system and infrastructure that would allow the rural people to have access to the outside world.

“It is true that digitisation cannot work without connectivity and speed. With this, the rural people can also join the rest to take advantage of the digital world,” he said.


12. Socio-economic activities

There is a lack of shophouses at Sungai Asap as the majority of the old shoplots built when the resettlers moved here have been taken up by the Chinese.

“We suggest the government to develop shophouses for the Bumiputeras in order to encourage and create more opportunities for the indigenous people to do business,” Tony emphasised.

Moreover, he pointed out that locals should be consulted and given equal opportunities to participate in all the development, especially eco-tourism in Bakun lake.

“The government can approach the Balui Lake Native Association (BLNA), of which I am the chairman. Our members are from all of the 15 longhouses, including those still staying near the lake,” added Tony.