30,000 cut off as river runs dry
by Peter Sibon and Wilfred Pilo, firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted on August 20, 2011, Saturday
Impoundment and weather deplete once mighty Rajang isolating the people living along it
KUCHING: About 30,000 people who live along the Rajang River between Kapit and Belaga are now cut off from the outside world as the river, their only means of transport to the towns, is too shallow to navigate.
Minister of Land Development Tan Sri Dr James Masing who disclosed the plight of the people there to The Borneo Post yesterday said the low water level was caused by the impoundment of the Bakun hydroelectric (HEP) dam upriver since October last year and was compounded by the current dry spell.
“The people are in dire straits and it is difficult to navigate the river now and it could eventually come to a standstill.
“I anticipate this problem will persist for another year or so and we cannot allow the people to suffer that long,” said the Baleh assemblyman.
Masing’s pessimism is well founded as the management of Bakun Hydro Electric dam, when contacted yesterday, said they could only anticipate releasing the water through the spillways in October.
However, this is dependent on the water level reaching the desired level in the dam.
Masing felt that this situation should have been anticipated and remedial measures planned before the situation deteriorated to this present state.
He added that former Pelagus assemblyman Larry Sng who represented the affected people in that area before the last state election should have the foresight to see the problems arising now and planned accordingly.
He pointed out that Sng who was also an assistant minister in the Chief Minister’s Department in-charge of economy and planning should have done what was necessary to avert the present situation.
“When he was still in office, he should have the foresight and anticipation to address the issues then and not waiting for the problem to arise.”
The last extreme low water level in the area was recorded in October last year when river transport in the upper reaches of the Rajang, including the stretch from Pelagus to Belaga, affecting the transportation of passengers, essential goods to the interior, school rations and medical supplies for about a month.
Meanwhile, a spokesman of the Kapit District Office said the people who usually took a short river trip from Kapit to Belaga were forced to travel down river to Sibu before going to Belaga by road via Bintulu – an arduous and expensive route.
Transportation is not the only woe the people in the area are facing because of the low water level and dry spell.
The spokesman also revealed that some 6,700 people living in Nanga Merit were now facing problems getting fresh water because their gravity feed pipes had dried up.
“They have to resort to using tube wells to get fresh water for their daily consumption,” revealed the spokesman.
The consolation for Nanga Merit residents is that they are linked to Kapit by logging roads and can still reach there by small boats although the fare is RM50 per head.