TANAH RATA: River water is one of the most vital resources for an Orang Asli community. However, almost 500 residents at Pos Menson, about 40km from here, can no longer depend on Sungai Bertam, which flows just next to their village.
The water quality at the river has drastically deteriorated, believed to be due to commercial agricultural activities in the area for over 25 years.
Worse still, during the rainy season, water from the highlands brings down mud and agricultural waste, causing the river to become shallow, dirty, and yellowish in colour.
” Before the 90’s the river was very clean, but now, I will not allow my grandchildren to bathe there. “
The water is also believed to contain chemicals from the use of scheduled poisons and chemical fertilisers in agricultural areas such as Ringlet and Bertam Valley in the Cameron Highlands.
This also has a direct impact on the Orang Asli community in other areas, especially those living near Jalan Ringlet-Sungai Koyan that rely on the river.
A check by Bernama at the Pos Menson Orang Asli settlement found that their lives and livelihoods have been severely affected, especially in terms of catching fish, as almost all the species of fish in the river have gone extinct.
Pos Menson Tok Batin (headman), Rahim Arkom, 58, said Sungai Bertam, which was used by residents of five villages, began deteriorating badly after the year 2000, as land nearby was used for illegal commercial farming activities. “The river water has become yellow and muddy, so much so there is almost no trace of fishes like the ‘tengas’, ‘krai’ and ‘sebarau’ in the river. Now, if we want to eat fish, we will have to ‘fish’ for them at the market,” he said.
Rahim said apart from that, wild animals in the forest such as mousedeer, porcupine and barking deer are increasingly hard to find.
The Tok Batin, who took over the reins of the community just two years ago, said a villager suffered hair loss after bathing in the contaminated river sometime in 2006.
“After the case, children in the village rarely go to bathe (in the river), as we told them not to bathe there as the water is dirty and filled with hazardous substances,” he said, adding that the issue had been brought up with the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa), but there was no response or action taken.
Mat Bah Dengkil, 53, from Kampung Rantau, said due to health reasons, people in the village no longer used water from the river, and instead relied on a gravitational
water system using water from a stream called Sungai Kelok.
“I do not remember the last time I bathed or fished there. Before the 90’s the river was very clean, but now, I will not allow my grandchildren to bathe there. It’s safer for them to take a shower at home through the piped water,” said Mat Bah, who has 12 children and 25 grandchildren.
Rosnah Isam, 51, from Kampung Gelnas hopes that the candidate who wins in the Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election will bring up this issue in Parliament.
There are five villages in Pos Menson, namely Kampung Panggak, Kampung Rantau, Kampung Gelnas, Kampung Batu Kusir and Kampung Berengis.– Bernama