Muddy Christmas: Native rights body highlights Sarawak’s horrendous rural roads

Muddy Christmas: Native rights body highlights Sarawak’s horrendous rural roads

Authorities taken to task as thousands returning to longhouses are hampered by mud.

THE dreadful condition of rural roads in Sarawak that have hampered folk from returning to their villages during the Christmas period is a stark indication of the wide divide between the rich and rural poor is in what is touted as the “record-wealthy” state.

The Society for Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak (Scrips) yesterday described the authorities’ failure to solve this most basic of rural woes over the last six decades as a “crying shame”.

Its northern Sarawak coordinator Michael Ding said most people in the rest of the country are not aware of the harsh realities of life that rural folk have to endure in the Borneo state. “Such a crying shame indeed to see friends and families having to endure travelling hardships that are so severe.

“It is so sad that we rural folk have to endure such sort of living conditions month after month, year after year.

“The natural resources like timber and plantation commodities that have made Sarawak so rich are from the rural areas, yet we rural folk have to endure this sort of suffering,” he told The Vibes.

“The state authorities have all the time boasted about Sarawak’s record-wealthy status, about record revenues, about hydrogen economy… Yet they do not want to talk about the harsh realities of rural life to the world.”

On Friday, many among the thousands of people travelling to their longhouses in the deep interior regions of northern Sarawak were caught en masse as their vehicles became in stuck in deep mud.

The timber roads in the upper Baram district, for example, had turned into rivers of mud due to heavy rain and flash floods in recent weeks.

Ding said that the works and road transport authorities should have already known there would be a rush by rural folk to return to their homes in interior regions this weekend in time for Christmas.

“They should have known that the rain and floods would have worsened the conditions of the timber roads and should have done remedial works on these places,” he said.

Scrips is a vocal statewide human rights group that fights for the million-odd natives regarding land and other basic matters. Mulu assemblyman Datuk Gerawat Gala had on Friday promised to help those trapped along the mud-stricken roads.

The Vibes was alerted to the situation by Baram social activist Willie Kajan, who said that his relatives and friends were among those who found themselves stuck in a river of mud. The trunk routes that were severely affected included the routes between Ulu Baram and Long Lellang, Baram and Bario Highlands, and Ulu-Baram to the Tutoh sub-district, he said.

Kajan said that they could not move in or out of the affected areas as the mud that had caked around their vehicles was about a metre deep.

When contacted, Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau said that based on information he received, the badly affected roads are those in the upper reaches of Baram district, further beyond the Mulu National Park and closer to the Bario mountains.

Rural Sarawak has more than 6,000 longhouses inhabited by about a million rural folk out of the three million that make up Sarawak’s population. A large number of rural folk from these longhouses are working in cities and towns.

They travel home to their remote settlements by the thousands during festive seasons like Gawai and Christmas.

Many are hoping to be back in time for prayers and family gatherings today, the eve of the religious day.

– The Vibes, December 24, 2023

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