When it comes to coordinating disaster relief efforts, timing is of great importance

We had unloaded the last bag of foodstuff - actually it was just three litres of water and 12 packets of Ah Seng Penang white curry instant noodles - at an orang asli settlement in Kampung Paya Pelong, Temerloh. I chatted with the two elderly Chinese men who brought me there.

It was heartwarming listening to how much they - Chan Kok Foo and Ng Tge Kiong - cared for the orang asli, even though they themselves were victims of the floods.

Ng said in Mandarin: "We were hungry and ate what we could to fill our stomachs. They (the orang asli) are also victims and I am sure they are hungry too. But no one could get to them because they are so far in the interior."

As we were talking, another man - I believe his name was Razali Muja - joined the conversation and started ranting about the night the waters came.

He said: "Hari 26 itu air naik (on the 26th the water rose)." He recounted that the water rose so fast that while he was able to get his family to safer ground, he could not save his belongings. Talking about it now gave him a lump in his throat.

I couldn't help thinking about what I was doing on Dec 26. I was busy making a salad with leftover turkey while this man was trying to save his wife and children. This time, the lump was in my throat.

To Razali, some people were lucky that they could still salvage stuff, even damaged items, to clean up and use.

"I have nothing," he said. "By the time I got back, my whole house was submerged and everything was washed away."

The stench of the mud and damp, rotten garbage was unbearable. But those who live here have no choice. Many women just ignored the stench as they tried to clean their soiled and broken furniture and equipment.

Those who did not have much to clean or salvage sat by the roadside or at the Dewan Orang Ramai to wait for donations.

When the vehicles came, a mother with young children rushed out in anticipation of milk, blankets and rice. No one gave her any. There were only bottles of water, instant noodles and biscuits.

The victims had already gotten piped water supply. And how much instant noodles can anyone eat in a day? The children, ever optimistic and still dressed in mudstained clothes, waited to see if we had brought anything different.

Chan and Ng kept reminding me that we should give equally to all the families to avoid fights as the people were desperate.

Razali had told us some villa­gers, who were assigned to repack the goods, would conveniently push some under the chair to hide for themselves. They were that desperate.

"A hungry crowd is an angry crowd," Chan warned.

At the outskirts of this settlement were newly-constructed bungalows that were still stained by mud more than 2m high. Chan didn't sound too worried about the Chinese residents in nearby Kerdau town which, until three days ago, was only accessible by train.

"The Chinese just think the flood is a chance to have a new coat of paint for the house and new furniture for the new year," he joked.

Chan is lucky because his house is located up on a hill, so he was only affected by a power cut.

Ng lives in a wooden house in Kerdau town, which he allowed us to use for repacking our stuff. His house had been flooded.

Both men were not exactly in love with politicians or their diehard suporters.

Chan said that while some people were denied food aid because they supported the wrong party, others refused to take food aid from the "other side" and would rather go hungry.

While we were repacking, some men in political party T-shirts came and asked where we were from and who donated the goods. They suggested that we hand over the stuff for them to distribute.

No thanks, we said. We did not want anyone politicising our food aid.

I chose to come to Kerdau and Kuala Klau because these were two of the worst-hit areas and little or no aid was getting to them. There are pockets of these people, especially the orang asli, who are neglected in the relief outreach efforts.

Chan and Ng repeatedly reminded me to bring milk for the children, blankets, rice and oil. They also welcomed old clothes as most of them had little to begin with before the flood. Now, they have nothing.

I know most relief organisations have an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in collection - relief, rebuild, recovery. Timing is of great importance. I think we were a bit late with the water and biscuit routine. People just want a hot meal of rice, even if it is just with ikan bilis.

During the last big flood, soon after the water receded, an NGO came with rice, ikan bilis and ikan masin. These were greatly welcomed.

In my load of stuff, someone had packed a big box of oats and muesli bars. People donated comforters and mattress protectors. All the victims want are blankets. The donors give according to what they are used to. They have little knowledge of what the victims really need or want.

It would make sense if we could get someone to coordinate more effectively the aid going out to the people concerned.

A mother with three young kids in tow coming to the collection centre would like to see milk, rice and oil in her bag of goodies intead of mattresses and comforters.

As we drove out, a girl aged around seven walked towards her house. I stopped, wound down my window and handed over a handful of sweets from the bag my son had given me to pass to the kids.

The girl smiled broadly, said thank you, turned around and skipped home. I'm glad I got this right at least, thanks to my son.

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