Monday, March 22, 2010

Orang Asli, the most marginalised by the UMNO-led coalition governments after 50+ years of independence

The Orang Asli community in Malaysia are still in a bad state... and the article below touches on health and healthcare..

"In the 1980s, life expectancy at birth among the Semai orang asli was some 35 years. (For West Malaysians it was 68-72 years)."

"Among Malaysian women giving birth at home in 1994, 42 died; 60% of these (25) were Orang Asli.

They are a very small group in Peninsular Malaysia, the original inhabitants of the Peninsular, the 'kings of the land' since we call Malays, the later arrivals the 'princes of the land'- Bumiputra

The current state of the orang asli community of Peninsular Malaysia is an indication of how much the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government has failed the people of Malaysia.

Some may wonder why the author of the article is not furnishing us with latest statistics - well, it is difficult to get them. Our government may most likely have all these statistics but they are 'hidden' from the people - those 'official secrets'.

In respond to the recent protest by the Orang Asli community in Putrajaya, which received some media coverage, our Minister says that the Orang Asli is not forgotten and marginalized - the government is going to take an Orang Asli craftsman overseas (was it the US) to demonstrate his skills as part of a tourism exercise. 

Last year, I visited the Taman Negara - and one of the attraction was the Orang Asli villages. Oh yes, they are kept 'development free' like 'animals in a zoo' for the purpose of tourism. The community also do not have piped drinking water or electricity. Is this the way we treat our indigenous people.

I remember how the government brought(or rather forced) many Orang Asli to leave their homes and lifes to come stay in houses in Bukit Lanjan.  They had been living hapily with dignity surviving with the riches from the forest suddenly thrown into to the fringes of the city, where the forests around the area was just not enough ...and is now almost completely gone. The whole area has been 'developed'. Hence, the orang asli in that area was forced into 'modern economy' becoming lowest paid workers, if they managed to get work. It is not the giving of wooden/brick houses that the Orang Asli wants - yes, the question that the government should be asking the Orang Asli themselves is what do they want. Now, the plans are to give them a certain plot of land each - but clearly the area of land is insufficient for them or their lifestyles. 

There were lands gazetted as Orang Asli Land - but alas the title was not given to the community (or the persons in that community) - and many of these lands have since been re-gazetted and land that remains is so much more smaller. On the other hand, the Malays were given land titles.

The Orang Asli wants to be represented in Parliament - but alas, there is no Orang Asli Member of Parliament. Senators - well, the Government chose one - but the Orang Asli community wants to choose their own Senator, someone who will represent the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia - not a government appointee, who will serve the UMNO-led BN government.

Local Council - Since the States are still appointing (and not allowing the people to elect), I wonder how many Orang Asli local councillors are there in Malaysia, be it in the Barisan ruled States or the Pakatan Rakyat ruled States.

I agree with the author, when he says that the Orang Asli, after 50 over years of  independence under the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional rule still remains the most marginalised community in the country.

Pakatan Rakyat can lead the way - maybe their next Senator could be an Orang Asli chosen by the Orang Asli community democratically. Maybe, Orang Asli local councillors - again chosen by the community  in the area. Maybe, the Pakatan Rakyat states can gazette new land as Orang Asli land, and ownership be given to the community (or if the community decides to the individual households or individuals). Development of the land maybe could be subjected to an Orang Asli council elected by the Orang Asli themselves. [I believe that the Kampung Baru land in KL had similar Board of Trustees/Governors, etc - and any development plans, sale, transfer, etc would require the consent of this Board - it is very unique situation for other land usually only require the consent of the State - do not know whether the UMNO-led BN government has managed to change the state of affairs with regard the Kampung Baru land]

I do not need to give suggestions - the Orang Asli knows what they want. All we have to do is listen.

The recent disclosures made by Dr Selva Vathany Pillai concerning malpractice and the misappropriation of resources by hospital authorities at the Gombak Hospital bring into stark focus, the social and health status of this community.

The Orang Asli, (aboriginal peoples), who are the most marginalised community in the country continue to suffer the loss of their lands through resettlement, logging, mining, dam construction, golf course development, plantation schemes, re-groupment and assimilation into mainstream society.

Orang Asli rights to their ancestral lands are not recognised by the state; as such they have been increasingly dispossessed of their lands and suffer destruction of their subsistence base. 

Government policy has been to regroup and resettle them to grow cash crops and food. Land pressure and the lack of state assistance and support have led to increasing hardship. Today, some 80 percent of the Orang Asli live below the official poverty line.

Consider the following health indicators:
  • In the 1980s, life expectancy at birth among the Semai orang asli was some 35 years. (For West Malaysians it was 68-72 years).
  • The Orang Asli had an incidence of tuberculosis twice the national average between 1951 to 1971. By 1995 the rate for Orang asli children was three times the average in the Perak state.
  • In 1991 and 1992, Orang Asli averaged 48% of all malaria infections, recorded in West Malaysia (comprising less than 1% of the population). In recent years, they have averaged over 70% of the cases.
  • The crude death for Orang Asli was 1% per year for the period 1984-87, twice as high as the West Malaysian average (0.5%). Their Infant mortality rate was 5.2%, more than three times the West Malaysia average (1.6%).
  • Among Malaysian women giving birth at home in 1994, 42 died; 60% of these (25) were Orang Asli.
  • A 1995 study showed that Orang Asli women are the most malnourished adult group in West Malaysia, with 35% of them suffering protein-energy malnutrition.
  • Anemia is widespread in Orang Asli women. In one study, Temuan Orang Asli women had an average haemoglobin level of 9.9 g/dl (gm/100ml) far below the acceptable level of 12 –15 g/dl.
  • Recent studies find 23% to 68% of Orang Asli children underweight, while 41% to 80% are stunted in their growth.
  • Serological tests reveal that 82% of Orang Asli showed prior exposure to dengue-virus illness.
  • In 1994, leprosy was 23 times more prevalent in Orang Asli than in the general population.
  • In 1990, only 67 of 774 Orang Asli villages (9%) contained a medical clinic.
Despite the dismal findings, the Orang Asli community have failed to receive the attention they deserve. Today, the Orang Asli remain the most unhealthy community in Malaysia, an expression of their marginal status in society. Malnutrition is a serious problem among the Orang Asli, and Orang Asli women are the most malnourished adult group in West Malaysia.

This is due to a lost of foraging and farm land, the increase in river pollution, dietary inadequacies; the level and frequency of infectious diseases, intestinal infestations and discrimination.

Orang Asli women have high levels of iron and folate deficiency, worm burdens and malaria. This has only made worse the nutritional degradation among the most vulnerable groups ie, women of childbearing age and young children.

The Orang Asli have always foraged for a variety of food resources even when they were 'farmers' and they enjoyed high-quality food with interesting variety if seldom in large quantities. As these sources of food dwindle, they are forced to buy modern food eg, sugar, processed flour, sweet condensed milk, tinned food, and cooking oil resulting in unhealthy, unbalanced and scarce nutrition.

Studies have revealed that aneamia is a significant cause of ill health among Orang Asli women; and maternal and childhood goitre has not seen much improvement between 1951 and 1995.

Maternal health is central to both maternal and infant survival and the health and vitality of Orang Asli communities. The nutritional status of Orang Asli children have been described as poor by various studies.

In 1987 it was found that 54 percent were underweight and 66 percent stunted. Other studies have confirmed that widespread malnutrition exists among Orang Asli children; and the frequency of stunting range from 44 percent in infants to 80 percent in 2 to 6 year olds.

Researchers have concluded that the 'nutritional status of Orang Asli children is perilous'. 

Because of serious childhood malnutrition in addition to intestinal worms and other problems, Orang Asli children face severe impairment to their physical, intellectual and social development. The grim health statistics reveal that maternal and child ill health and malnutrition in Orang Asli communities needs to be urgently addressed.

Even the Orang Asli Hospital in Gombak has seen little improvement. Critics have pointed out the 'temporary' wooden structures at Gombak Hospital built in 1959 by Orang Asli workers, still house patients. Hospital staffing still lacks specialists in various medical disciplines. Nor is health education properly addressed by the current medical bureaucracy for the Orang Asli. According to the head of Gombak Hospital Orang Asli health was not well served by the 'staff attitude' at medical facilities.

Under the law, all aspects of their lives are 'managed' by the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA). In short, they are wards of the state with little say over their own affairs and lives.

The Orang Asli community must be involved in deciding their priorities and their needs as only they know their problems best. In this regard, the mobilisation of the active support and involvement of the community is fundamental to their health improvement.

The writer is president, Consumers Association of Penang.- Malaysiakini, 16/3/2010, The sorry state of Orang Asli health - by SM Mohamed Idris

See earlier posts:-

Orang Asli:- When the 'kings of the land' marginalized by 'princes of the land' and UMNO-led BN

SUHAKAM: Orang Asli - "...marginalised in a system similar to 'apartheid'..."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

God never shuts one door but he opens another. ........................................