Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flying on Helicopter to Interior Sarawak

In January 2010, I was invited to represent UTM group for a meeting and field trip in Sarawak with VIPs from Federal Agencies, headed by  the Secretary of PM, Dato’ Sahlan. The meeting was in the afternoon January 18, at Chief Minister Office. We were briefed  on the progress of development projects and problems faced by rural settlements in the Baram river basin of Sarawak.  Basic problems related to  infrastructure  such as poor conditions of road system, water supply,  electricity, need for bridges to cross rivers, and  communication. 

The condition of the road to Pekan Marudi after  heavy rain a  day before
There was discussion on possibility of involving UTM to study  an integrated project linking the construction of micro dam to supply of water for drinking and irrigation of paddy area in Barrio. One of the road project linking Lawas, Bekalalang and Bario was under construction and involved construction of 12 bridges. Some of the settlements did encounters flood problems particular during monsoon season. In term of economy it was the stability of income the main concern. Many people engaged in farming, and some worked with logging companies.
This helicopter can take up to five persons.

On the January 19, we went for field trip to Baram area. Starting from Miri airport in the morning, we travelled by 4-WD to Pekan Marudi. More than 20 people took part in the trip, including the MPs, officials of federal and states government. The road connecting Miri to Marudi was in very poor condition- unpaved, soft, undulating in some places, and it took two hours to reach the first destination. At Pekan Marudi  we visited a few places that was affected by flood and river erosion. After lunch we  continued the journey by helicopter to long houses at Sg Bong Tinjar, Long Teran dan Sg Seliping. The trip to Sg Bong Tijar took about 30 minutes, and we arrived at about 3 pm . We stayed there for 20 minutes, briefed by  head of the village on problem of flood, deteriorated school buildings  need to be replaced, and  water supply (currently collected from rain). Then we moved to Long Teran, after visited the surrounding area, observed the bridge site and was served with some local food. We  then proceeded to Sungai Seliping, landing at school field and went to the Long Teran Long house. Same basic infrastructure problems were mentioned, flood, water supply and road network.  It was already 5 pm and we have three more villages to visit. From Seliping we continued our journey by 4WD, stop for prayer at Petronas station on the way then reach Entulang Long house about 7 pm. After short briefing and feedback from the villagers we moved on to Sg Buri and the last one  we stopped at Sungai Liam Long house. At Sungai Liam dinner was served - prepared by teachers from Semenanjung who teached at a school near the village. Knowing that many guests were Muslim, they seek help from Muslim teachers to prepare the food. We reached our hotel at Miri about mid-night.
The view of Long House at Sungai Bong Tijar
The second day field trip was more interesting, departed about 9am from Miri airport by helicopter to Limbang area. It was quite a long journey to 3 destinations, Ulu Lubai, Long Napir, Long Mendamit. On helicopter I could see aerial view  of the rural land uses and how Sarawak had transformed its rural landscape into vast palm oil plantations.  We could see forest  only when approaching highland areas towards Limbang. 
Vast area of land in Sarawak has been transformed into palm oil plantations

It's surprising that there is a cluster school which won excellent award at such remote area in Ulu Lumbai. We can see all the colourful display of graphic materials  and phrases on corridors, walls and in the small gardens outside. From my observations of villages in Sarawak,  the best achievement that we should be proud of  is  that, although the places may be lacking of infrastructure but the basic education facilities at primary level are mostly available or accessible. In all schools that I came across in the villages, there were a few teachers from Peninsular Malaysia. The language taught at school  has been spreading to the communities at large and Malay language thus becomes medium of communication especially for visitors like me.
School facility at Ulu Lumbai village was impressive
Computer room at Ulu Lumbai Cluster School
One of the garden in the school area

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Short Journey to Semenchu

Our visit to Semenchu is part of the students assignment to assess the  sustainability of the community using a set of indicator. We planned to stay there for two nights, starting the journey from UTM Campus  on Friday, October 16,  at 3 pm  and returned on Sunday. There were 12 students involved  –four  Iranians, one Nigerian, one Pakistani, one Saudi and the rest local. We went by two students’ cars and a faculty  vehicle-4WD Fortuner. This was the first time  I drove the Fortuner which  was purchased by the faculty early this year. But, I found  easy to drive  it since my car is  also Toyota  brand with automatic gear and has almost similar  setting  such as the gear, signal , wiper, and lighting switches. On the way we stopped at a restaurant in Felda Ari Tawar 5, before  proceeded to the Semenchu. We arrived in Semenchu about 5.30 pm.
Master Students, Urban & Regional Planning 2010
Semenchu is a settlement  developed by the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA).  The scheme includes farmland, infrastructure and amenities (housing, basic facilities, road and utilities), processing and marketing. It was aimed to provide opportunities for the poor rural people to improve their standard of living  through agricultural, industrial and businesses activities carried out professionally and profitably. Each settler was allocated 10 acres farmland   and  a housing plot of a quarter acre. Those eligible people  in rural areas were selected to become settlers after screening (based on criteria such as experience in farming, income, marital status, dependents) and interview processes. In Semenchu, most of  them came from within Johor State such as  the districts of Muar, Batu Pahat and Pontian. The first group of settlers  entered the scheme in 1976 and last batch 1981. Altogether, there are 628 settlers/houses in the scheme, sub-divided into 27 blocks (each block have around 24 houses).

The new variety of palm oil take only three years to bear fruits. The oil content is about 26 percents of its weight.

The homestay program in Semenchu started in 2004 and  102 of the settlers  participated. We stayed at four of the homestay houses. From our experience the facilities of the homestay were good, with clean toilet, well maintain rooms and furniture in the houses. Students have opportunities to visit farms, palm oil factory, participate in sports and culture performance.  We were also invited to attend  the marriage ceremony.

Cutting across the palm oil fruit. The fully pollinated one have four layers.  
In May 2010, a group of UG students did a survey on FELDA Settlers' Satisfaction. The survey covered 12 FELDA settlements in Johor. Members of settlers' household were interviewed including Settlers, Wives, Children and Grand Children. The survey was part of the study undertaken by FELDA to find out the perception of settlers' population on various programmes that has been implemented to improve standard of living.  I did supervise the students' survey, and while students were conducting the survey I took opportunities to travel around the settlement and talked to a few people including the Felda officials and settlers. Generally, the settlers were satisfied with their living condition and the programmes implemented by FELDA. Some of the issues raised related to replanting scheme undertaken by the subsidiary company of FELDA (Technoplant), including weaknesses in the management of the plantation (earlier phase); delay in transferring of land title, and fractionism  in certain scheme related to differences in political view/affiliation. Most of the settlement schemes has to employ foreign labourers to work in plantation because the original settlers are already too old to undertake the job. While young people in the schemes tended to work in cities which are more suitable for the nature of education they received. Many of the younger generation permanently migrated upon getting job outside or married, but some did commute to places of work.
Group of UG students that conducted the survey
During the survey in Tenggaroh students stayed with the settlers

Facts about Palm Oil Cultivation

Each Felda settlers own 10 acres of plantation land and a quarter acre of house plot
Number of tree per acre: 55
Production for 10 acre: low season- 3 tons per month; high season- 8 tons per month (August to October)
Fertilizer: 2 kg per tree and 4 times per year/ 4 tons per year for 10 acres
Cost of fertilizer (FELDA): RM1100 per ton
Labour cost for harvest: small tree RM20 per ton/ big tree-RM30 per ton
Cost of transportation of fruit to factory- varies from RRM25-RM35 per ton depending on distance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small is Beautiful-Bibury Village

I met Malcolm Moseley, Professor of Rural Community Development in June 2009 at The Countryside and Community Research Institute in Gloucestershire, UK. Upon leaving, he recommended me to visit a beautiful village- Bibury, just off  A40 road from Gloucester to Oxford. Bibury is an old village, having a few cottages built from local stone. It's clean Coln River  flows through the village parallel to the main street. I was attracted to its greenery, including the river, fish ponds and stone cottages half covered with creepers.

Stone Cottages of Bibury Village

River Coln-green and clean

Information centre
There is another beautiful village in Holland I visited. The setting is almost like those villages in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia with houses built along canals (parit). The different is that the water in the canal was very clean. They really make used of the canal for their advantage such as linking it to their backyard garden, boating and fishing.

Canal in village- water was very clean, they used it for fishing, and boating activities
Fishing in the canal at garden yard

Riding bicycle is common in Holland. But in the city of Amsterdam you can find bicycles everywhere. 

A good example of linking canal to your garden

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Orang Asli in Malaysia

In Peninsular Malaysia the Orang Asli consist of three main ethnic groups: the Senoi, the Proto-Malay and Negrito, with a total population of about 120,000 in year 2000. The majority were Senoi (living in Perak, Pahang, Kelantan and Selangor) and the Proto-Malay (largely found in Pahang, Johor, Terengganu and Negeri Sembilan). Efforts to develop Orang Asli communities can be traced back to 1953 and the establishment of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA). The development of Orang Asli schemes began in 1977, which involved regrouping of the Orang Asli into a centralised village within or close to their traditional homeland. The schemes include provision of basic facilities such as a primary school, health clinic, housing and some form of income generating activities such as rubber and palm oil cultivation (Nicolas, 2000). In some schemes the cultivation of crops were carried out together with FELCRA who managed the plantation on a cooperative system. There were 18 regrouping schemes developed for the whole of Peninsular Malaysia involving about 10,000 Orang Asli. 
Field study - Orang Asli  at  Belum Forest Reserve in Perak
JHEOA also pursued other programmes ranging from the development of entrepreneurship to provision of facilities and human development. There has been a lot of improvement in the living conditions of Orang Asli. However, the overall level standard of living and achievement are far behind other communities.  Poverty, low education achievement with a high drop out-rate, and persistence of infectious and parasitic diseases (malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, measles, whooping cough and scabies) are some of the indicators of under development.
Orang Asli children at school in a Resettlement Scheme 
Among Orang Asli communities, there exists a lot of variation in living conditions. Those near urban centre tend to be more equipped with facilities and exposed to modern living. In remote locations where accessibility posed a problem, livelihoods and life remain traditional, living by subsistence farming, hunting and gathering of jungle products.  In one extreme case the Jahai community in Royal Belum Forest Reserve (Perak), chose to live in the traditional way and refuse to stay in the regrouping scheme provided, and do not send their children to school. 
The Jahai Community at Belum Forest Reserve in Perak

Rural Sarawak Expedition

One of my interesting experience making expedition in rural areas was along Sungai Rajang some years ago.  My destination was the Kayan Long House at Long Buko, the catchment area of Bakun Dam, to study the community.  Sungai Rajang is the longest river in Malaysia and it took a few days to reach the upstream tributaries, particularly  at that time I had to cross the Bakun dam which was under construction. I started the journey from Sibu to Belaga by express boat at 5.30am  and arrived 8 hours later.  I stayed two nights in Belaga, made arrangement for transportation, using 4WD to cross the Bakun Dam construction site and then continued the journey by boat for another 5 hours. Traveling up Balui river was very challenging particularly we had to pass through many rapids and some were very dangerous. Luckily, we there were very experienced and skilled Kayan boatman, Pran, Tinggang and his brothers who knew the route very well, even traveling in darkness. Traveling up Balui river was also costly because  need  a lot of petrol to burn up two 40-horse powered engines. Pran said to cross the rapids need powerful boat engine  and using two, not only add to power but also necessary as backup if any of the engine fail. The boat will definitely capsized if the engine fail when passing through fast flowing rapids. Apart from that, there was nobody to pick up if stranded on the way.

Originally there were 15 villages (long houses) in the upstream of Rajang river (Balui River). With the construction of Bakun dam, they were resettled to a new settlement at Sungai Asap. The Kayan community I visited was the a group of them, Uma Balui Leguei, consisted of about 40 households who refused to move to new settlement because not satisfied with compensation offered by the government. They protested that their land were not surveyed (sukat) by the government and thus not received compensation appropriately.
A Kayan Settlement at Long Jawi

I stayed with the Kayan community for a week, observed their daily life, and took part in some of their activities such as following them hunting, milling rice, and visiting their farm. Living in that remote area really felt isolated not only due to distance but also no communication facilities available. The only way the people from outside to communicate or sent messages was via local radio.
Fishing using "Jala"

The making of  "rattan mat"

The Bakun Hydro Electric Dam will begin sumping water in mid-October 2010,and  is expected to start generating 300 megawatt (MW) of electricity by June 2011, when the water level reach 195 meter  (minimum for the operation of hydro turbine) and have maximum capacity to generate 2,400 MW when fully in operation by 2012. About 69,500 hectare of land in the catchment area will be flooded including the Kayan settlement  above. But I was told that the long house had been relocated to a higher place not far away from the previous location. The boatman, name Pran, who took me to the long house did had plan to buy a bigger boat, since he foresaw the potential of tourism activities in the area when the dam completed.

Boatman-Pran, want to have bigger boat when Bakun Dam completed

Starmetro, October 27, reported on low water level of Rajang river after impoundment of Bakun Dam in October 13. It has left people high and dry as jetties in towns and longhouses were several meters above water mark, making it very inconvenient and dangerous for people to  move, loading and unloading of goods. Express boat and cargo boats can't get through the Pelagus Rapids and thus no services from Kapit to Belaga.   Transportation of logs by tongkang  from upper Baleh also stopped because of low water level.

 Berita Harian Jan, 16, 2011 reported on the visit of Prime Minister to Sungai Asap, Bakun and Belaga. During the visit to the Sungai Asap resettlement scheme Najib heard the plight of the people in the settlement with regard to their socio-economic condition. PM mentioned that Federal Government will write off the remaining housing loans of about RM41 million owed by some 1500 families who were relocated following the construction of the Bakun hydroelectric dam. The government will also look into providing additional land for farming to the settlers, which the current 1.2 hectares is too small to generate enough income to support the cost of living. Announcement was also made on the upgrading and building of  37km stretch of road linking Belaga, Bintulu and Bakun costing about RM62mil to benefit about 15000 people. During my visit to Belaga in 2003 I did experience traveling through the road used by people to Bintulu and also linking to Bakun and Sungai Asap. The road was very rough constructed by logging company for transporting logs. Apart very undulating, it was muddy and only 4WD vehicles fit to travel through. The one way trip cost RM50 per person.

Chronology   of the Bakun  dam development

1960s- Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Authority of Australia, under the Colombo Plan, identified   Bakun, through which Balui flows had potential of  hydroelectricity.
1977- detailed study  conducted by Sarawak Electricity Supply Co  reconfirmed the potential of  Bakun hydroelectricity.
1980s- The Sarawak Master Plan Study for Power Development  and a corresponding feasibility study completed in  1983 indicated that  hydropower project at Bakun was both technically feasible and financially viable but the supply has to be transmitted to Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia as well.
National Energy Planning study was undertaken and looking into Bakun in the context of overall energy policy. The study estimated that the dam would cost about RM 8 billion.
1985- economic recession resulted in Bakun Dam being relegated aside.
1986- the government announced that it intended to proceed with Bakun despite recession,
1986-1993- the period of silence, but  protest from indigenous people from the Bakun area and other concerned Malaysian and environmentalist groups.
1993- The Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department approved the project (July) and subsequently  the cabinet (September).
1993- Oct 1, it was revealed that  Bakun would be a 2,400MW dam costing about RM12 billion and would flood an area the size of Singapore.
1994-  Sarawak-based Ekran Bhd had won the contract to construct and operate the dam.
Ekran Assigned the preparation of an EIA to Unimas.
1995- EIA was approved in March 1995. Forest were cleared and the process of resettling  people from the area affected by the dam began. Natives of the bakun area seeks a High Court ruling that the jurisdiction of EIA being under the auspices of the state government was unlawful. But a Court of Appeal decision overruled a stop-work order from the High Court. 
1997- Bakun was shelved due to Asian financial crisis.
1998- The bakun project was returned to the Minister of Finance Inc. (MoF)
1999- the government compensated Ekran  RM900 million.
2000- the project was revived on a smaller scale, without the undersea cables.
2003- the Edge reported that Sarawak Hidro was still a wholly owned subsidiary of MoF and going to be 60 per cent owned by GIIG Capital Sdn Bhd, a company linked to tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhari. Negotiation was on the way t how much the power generation should be distributer among the main users and the tariff charge.  Sarawak Hidro is approaching EPF, Affin bank, Bank Islam to help with  loans for financing the project.
2010-  dam  reservoir  ready to keep water and production of electricity within 6 months.

Source: The Edge Malaysia, 0ctober 13, 2003