14 Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang have died in the past month
National Unity and Social Wellbeing Minister P. Waytha Moorthy confirmed yesterday, 9 June, that the deaths are believed to have occurred between 2 May and 7 June, reported Sinar Harian.
He added that two of them have died from pneumonia, while the cause of death of the other 12 victims remain unknown as the bodies have been buried by locals prior to reports of the outbreak.
1. As of 8 June, 83 Orang Asli from the Batek tribe in Kuala Koh are believed to have symptoms of pneumonia
Sinar Harian reported Waytha as saying that two of them, a 36-year-old woman and three-year-old baby, are currently in critical condition.
"37 villagers are currently under outpatient treatment, 32 people are being treated at Gua Musang Hospital (HGM), 11 are at Kuala Krai Hospital (HKK), and three are at the Orang Asli Health Homestay (RIKA) in Gua Musang," the minister said.
According to Channel NewsAsia, Kelantan State Health Department director Dr. Zaini Hussin revealed that based on the clinical symptoms and infection contracted by the villagers, the cases are believed to be pneumonia.
2. A local, who had lived in Kuala Koh for 10 years, claimed that the deaths were caused by mining activities nearby
A 32-year-old single father, Adidas Om, told Channel NewsAsia yesterday that he believes the outbreak and deaths are connected to mining activity around his village.
He revealed that his two daughters have been experiencing breathing difficulty for days, and could not sleep at night.
"Apart from my children, my neighbours are suffering from the same disease and some have died," Adidas said.
3. However, despite knowing that the mining activities have caused water pollution, villagers claimed that they were left with no choice but to use the water for daily activities
26-year-old Zeli Shahir Khan told Kosmo Online yesterday that her fellow villagers have knowingly used polluted water from Sungai Pertang for daily necessities for the last few years.
"We are left with no choice but to drink and cook using polluted water as our village is located too far from clean water supply... I believe the polluted water also caused my siblings to pass away almost a month ago due to lung infection," Zeli was quoted as saying by Kosmo Online
Another local, 32-year-old Inja Punai claimed that the contamination has been happening since three years ago.
"We have not made accusations but suspect that the water pollution is caused by chemical waste from an iron ore-mining company that has been operating here since three years ago," Inja revealed.
"Before this, our village was threatened by the opening of an oil palm plantation to the point where our river was buried with soil, but it wasn't as bad as this time," the villager added.
4. The Ministry of Water, Land, and Natural Resources has since vowed to probe the alleged water contamination in Kuala Koh
New Straits Times reported that Deputy Minister Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji said earlier today, 10 June, that the ministry will investigate if water pollution is behind the pneumonia outbreak among the Orang Asli community.
"We have been conducting visits to review all the issues raised by the community today," Zulpuri said, according to New Straits Times.
Meanwhile, the Orang Asli Development Department (JAKOA) pledged to assist investigation of the bacterial outbreak.
"JAKOA is also planning to supply raw water to the residents as initial aid following allegations that their water sources have been polluted... We hope the disease is not contagious," JAKOA director-general Prof Dr. Juli Edo told New Straits Times yesterday.
5. According to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the government will take stern action against culprits if the deaths are found to be caused by water contamination
Channel NewsAsia reported Wan Azizah as adding that mining and logging activities in the area will also be probed to make sure proper procedures in relation to the environment have been followed.
"Stricter enforcement and more deterrent measures are some of the steps that must be looked into," she added.