Group calls for centralised database as Covid-19 relief still beyond reach to many Orang Asli families

An aerial view of the Batek tribe settlement in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang. The fragmented nature of Orang Asli settlements often makes it hard for the authorities to keep track, which means there is a risk that hundreds if not thousands of families may be left out. — Bernama pic
An aerial view of the Batek tribe settlement in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang. The fragmented nature of Orang Asli settlements often makes it hard for the authorities to keep track, which means there is a risk that hundreds if not thousands of families may be left out. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 ― For many Orang Asli families deep in the interiors, help amid the Covid-19 pandemic remains elusive. 

The government, through the Orang Asli Affairs Department (Jakoa), has strived to distribute aid to the thousands of families belonging to the country’s indigenous tribes left stranded by the restrictions enforced under the movement control order (MCO).

But the fragmented nature of Orang Asli settlements often makes it hard for the authorities to keep track, which means there is a risk that hundreds if not thousands of families may be left out.

For Epic, a non-profit organisation that helps build homes for impoverished Orang Asli families, the coronavirus pandemic again underscores the need for a centralised effort for Covid-19 relief work.

But the lack of data has made handing out aid much tougher.

“Information on the Orang Asli community in Peninsular Malaysia, while being actively updated, is by no means complete,” the organisation said.

“We also empathise that these limitations are faced by all organisations, governmental or not, in their relief work.”

The disjointed relief effort has prompted the group to push for a centralised campaign through the Covid-19 Collective for Orang Asli, a platform to share data, information, and resources.

At the moment, Epic has made information from its own database available on charity platform Sedunia, mostly based on Jakoa’s census data and supplemented by what has been compiled by the collective so far.

The group expressed hope that the initiative would collate the most comprehensive database on the Orang Asli community in the country and has appealed for help in keeping the database accurate and updated.

“Now more than ever, is a time for all parties to come together to overcome these challenges for the sake of the OA community,” it said.

A complete database is important because of the risk of aid not reaching to families that live in non-gazetted villages, Epic explained.

Because of the evolving nature of the Orang Asli’s way of life where migration and establishments of new villages commonly take place, villages that are not officially registered may have slipped through the cracks.

Access to help may also be hindered by complex terrains in remote areas, posing major logistical challenges for relief work.

“The reality is that the OA community is geographically fragmented, and hence, so is relief work,” the group said.

“This is why each organisation has a different network of villages that they have a strong presence.”

A week ago a report citing the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) director-general Prof Dr Juli Edo alleged Orang Asli across the country are facing restricted access to aid during the MCO.

Manpower shortages and a large number of households needing assistance had stretched Jakoa’s resources and ability to deliver food to the needy, The Malaysian Insight, quoted him as saying.

But Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob dismissed the allegation.

In a statement issued on April 11, food distribution to the Orang Asli community is underway, with a total budget of RM11 million across 2 phases covering all gazetted villages and groups known to them that are no longer living within the gazetted areas.

Epic welcomed the explanation but said collective fundraising and relief efforts should still continue to supplement the work done by the Rural Development Ministry and Jakoa.

“We have each heard their desperate calls for help,” it said.

“And we each acted as quickly as we could, with the information at hand, to address the dire circumstances that some villages found themselves in.”

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