Will We Learn From The Kuala Koh’s Tragedy?


With due recognition towards the Federal Government, the Kelantan’s Government, the Ministry of Health, the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), the Department of Environment, Bomba Penyelamat Malaysia and all entities that were involved in the Level 1 disaster among Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, the question remain whether we, Malaysian as a whole, will learn anything from the tragedy?

2. It has been established from the Minister of Health’s statement, that the area involved in the tragedy were beyond Kuala Koh, Kelantan. The outbreak also affected Orang Asli’s population in Kampung Gerdong, Hulu Terengganu and Kampung Ulu Sat, Pahang. Up to 190 cases of respiratory syndromes were identified whereby 92 of them were confirmed to be measles. Four mortalities were reported in relation to the Measles consisting of 3 in Kelantan and 1 in Terengganu. Whereas, the cause of deaths of 12 cases have not been identified as of 13th July 2019.

3. The Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement that the laboratory investigation by the Department of Environment which was done according to the Standard Operating Procedure, on the 12th of June 2019 had revealed the source of water was in accordance to the standards, no traces of contaminants from the mine located about 3 km from settlement nor were there pesticides or herbicides in the water runoff from the palm oil plantations. This should numb the fast-pointing fingers towards the state government. 

4. More importantly, this tragedy is a reminder of ongoing systemic failure to support Orang Asli’s community. Those who work closely with Orang Asli will recognise that there have been generations of neglect, lack of cohesive policy and let-down in providing sufficient resources to help Orang Asli accommodate to the surrounding development around them.

5. Notably, Orang Asli are vulnerable to various health morbidities and mortalities due to poor education, social and economic exclusion, meagre housing and sanitation with lack of adequate nutrition. Various efforts targeting the Orang Asli appeared to be short-lived and symptomatic without core measures to empower the community to be self-reliant.

6. Unfortunately for Orang Asli, their plight for survival has been manipulated for political gain for many who have come and gone. Whereas, the ever-present state government had been relentlessly criticised despite its very limited capacity and scope of duty. The media too had been notorious in throwing blames and building perceptions without actually building bridges among various stakeholders to work together for the betterment of Orang Asli.

7. Thus, we call for real agenda that will result in tangible differences to the Orang Asli in the short term and for the long run. The federal agencies especially Department of Orang Asli Development and state government and their agencies need to collaborate and execute policies and programs that reflect the current dire situations of the Orang Asli. Precise targets and key performance indicators need to be defined to ensure all the efforts will not go into the drain.

Dr. Mohd Mazri Yahya
Lujnah Kesihatan PAS Pusat.

29th July 2019