Sabah island in dire straits as water crisis worsens

PETALING JAYA: Villagers on Sabah's Pulau Banggi, the largest island in Malaysia, are facing a water crisis that has stretched on for three weeks.

Among the most affected on the island, which is the size of Singa­pore, are the elderly, the disabled, children and dozens of primary school students

The children have to walk over a kilometre to and from their classes in sweltering weather on an island made worse by a lack of basic amenities.

Water is already expensive at RM20 (S$6.82) per 1,000 litres. In comparison, the price in the peninsula for 1,000 litres is less than RM1.

Showers and washing are also deemed luxuries and many villagers opt to use unclean water from wells and ponds instead.

Desonny Tuzan, co-founder of the Beyond Pitas non-government organisation, has highlighted the villagers' plight through a series of tweets using the hashtag #Banggi­WaterCrisis.

"The wells in Kg Palak in Pulau Banggi, Sabah, are drying up. There are three wells. One has a dead rat," he tweeted yesterday.

For some, the nearest well can be up to a kilometre away.

Among those helping on the ground is Pastor Albert Adampai, 43, who has served the area under the Sidang Injil Borneo Church for over two years.

He said Felcra was supplying water to its workers in the area but the island's main water tank has run dry, leaving villagers in dire need of clean treated water.

"The last two weeks were the worst. Whatever little water there was evaporated quickly because of the scorching sun," he told The Star.

Without Good Samaritans like Albert, some elderly folk have to endure a 2km walk home daily under the weight of a 25-litre container.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said each district in the state had a disaster management committee chaired by the District Office and that it had been ordered to act accordingly.

In Kota Kinabalu, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said water shortages had hit various parts of Sabah, including Pekan Nabalu at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

He also said the authorities had begun sending water to people in the affected areas.

"There is also a high incidence of bush and forest fires that have affected our air quality.

"I would also like to remind people to be responsible and not to resort to open burning, which would worsen the haze," he added.