PETALING JAYA - In 2009, before the start of the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP), half of the orang asli in peninsular Malaysia lived under the poverty line of RM700 per month (based on Poverty Line Income 2007). The five-year plan set an ambitious target of reducing that by half, to 25 per cent.
Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) director-general Datuk Hasnan Hassan believes that goal will be reached by the end of this year.
In most cases, he said: "Orang asli communities are among the most disadvantaged in the conventional sense due to their way of life and, in some cases, remoteness."
By comparison, only 0.5 per cent of the general population in urban areas are under the poverty line, and 2.7 per cent in the rural areas - about a 10th of the percentage of orang asli in that category.
Jakoa and other groups and individuals working with the orang asli have tracked the implementation of the 10MP and have a wish list for what should be in the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP), to be launched in June. This will be the last plan in the run-up to Vision 2020.
Household income for the orang asli rose from RM1,092 (S$405) in 2009 to RM1,153 last year, Hasnan noted. They are getting 1Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M) of RM950, a monthly allowance from the Department of Social Welfare, and the Muslims also receive zakat.
Between 2010 and 2014, Jakoa spent RM259mil on orang asli development. With other agencies such as the Risda and Felcra, it planted 21,000ha of reserve land with oil palm and 3,500 with rubber, generating monthly dividends of RM450.
However, about 20 per cent, or 7,300 orang asli households are still hardcore poor with less than RM490 per month (based on Poverty Line Income 2009) although, Hasnan stressed, "they have fish, fruits and game."
Under the 11MP, his department aims to provide more income-generating programmes, including commercial agricultural activities.
To further improve their quality of life, he said housing, electricity and treated water supply, and road access are needed.
Dr Colin Nicholas, founder and coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, pointed out that many orang asli have to rely on swamp water, and are without electricity.
Jakoa will also concentrate on reducing the dropout rate among orang asli in schools, and sending more orang asli for tertiary studies, locally and abroad.
It will also continue to tackle orang asli land issues. Different stakeholders have different ideas on how that land should be developed.
Jakoa's Hasnan would prefer that the orang asli could have individual titles, which could be passed on to their heirs but not sold.
On the other hand, University of Malaya's Assoc Prof Juli Edo, a Semai from Perak, argued that orang asli should be given more land to develop themselves, and that external agencies should only manage the land for a certain number of years before returning it to the orang asli.
Midway through the 10MP, in 2012, the Ministry of Health (MOH) took over responsibility for health services for the orang asli from Jakoa.
"MOH has been very serious in improving healthcare and maternal health of the orang asli, as well as child malnutrition issues," said Hasnan.
Public health physician Dr Izandis Mohamad Sayed, the third orang asli doctor in the country, hopes the 11MP will include new strategies to tackle access to health services for those living in the interior, and smart partnerships with the community and non-governmental organisations.
"My personal wish is for the orang asli community to be empowered in all aspects, not just health," he said.
He wants them to be more aware, more proactive and to take advantage of the services available to them.