GUA MUSANG, Kelantan: The Malaysian government has not managed to pinpoint the cause of an outbreak after 14 people of the Batek indigenous community died and dozens were hospitalised.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Friday (Jun 14) that the outbreak was not due to the manganese mining activity, adding that the test results showed that the water quality in the area was in compliance with the national standard.
“The Jun 12 test (of a water sample) also found no pollution from palm oil waste, pesticides and herbicides,” she said during a visit to the National Disaster Management Agency's operations centre at Felda Aring 10.
Dr Wan Azizah said investigations by the Department of Environment also found no manganese mining waste disposal at Felda Aring 10, which is about 10km away from the Orang Asli settlement in Kuala Koh.
She pledged that the government, through the Health Ministry, would continue to try and find the cause of the tragedy, which saw 103 people seeking medical treatment so far. Half of those affected are children younger than 12 years old.
The outbreak has resulted in 14 deaths, and postmortem on two of the deceased revealed that they had died from pneumonia.
The authorities mobilised an operation to locate the remains of the 12 deceased, who were laid to rest in the jungle after they died while on the move.
It is the nomadic tribe’s culture to venture far from home when they become seriously ill, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy.
His Cabinet colleague, Heath Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, had on Monday ruled out tuberculosis and leptospirosis as the diseases suffered by the villagers.
On Friday, Dr Wan Azizah said the indigenous community was stricken with chronic health issues.
Their foraging area has become smaller, which led to them facing malnutrition, she added.
“They are also losing their source of income because of that," the deputy prime minister said.
“That’s why we have to think about how to solve the issues of modernisation and poverty affecting the Orang Asli."
Dr Wan Azizah, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said the investigation team was identifying the microorganisms from the samples taken from the patients and the bodies, and the results would be available soon.
Kuala Koh has been cordoned off after it was declared a red zone by Kelantan police. People who were discharged from hospital are being housed at a temporary relief centre.
While they may still practise a primitive way of life, the villagers said they do not reject modernisation and were hoping for basic amenities, such as treated water and electricity supply.
They claimed that the water tank and pump, which were installed two years ago, were damaged, leaving them with no choice but to rely on rivers, hill catchment areas and streams from nearby palm plantations for water.
"Water from the river and hills is still safe, but water from plantations may contain pesticides and fertilisers," resident Aziz Aril Majid, who is in his 40s, said.
He said the locals suffered stomach pains due to the poor water quality.
"We hope the people in power (Dr Wan Azizah) can come here today. We need clean water,” he told reporters.
Another resident, Anit Seman, 37, said the existing infrastructure was incomplete, as there was no electricity supply.
He said the residents would rather live in bamboo houses or basic tents than put up with the darkness and heat in a house.
“We are Orang Asli, we live in the jungles, but if people give us rooms (houses), we will move in, but it is difficult without electricity,” he said.