KUALA LUMPUR – For the last 28 years, some 500 Kenyah people in the remote village of Long Puak in Sarawak were forced to depend on rainfall as their main source of water supply.
Finally, on 17 May, they were relieved of this hardship when they started receiving clean piped water, made possible by the Malaysian Humanitarian Movement (MHM).
The villagers were in seventh heaven the moment running water flowed through the taps in the 30-door longhouse where they lived and tears of happiness streamed down their cheeks.
At hand to witness their joy were about 100 MHM volunteers and village youths who were involved in the Kampung Long Puak clean water project, which was carried out in the ‘gotong royong’ spirit and completed within a month.
The residents of Kampung Long Puak, located about 300 kilometres from Miri, are mainly Christians and most of them are either farmers or forage for forest products.
According to MHF president Khairul Annuar Mansor, who was also project leader, the villagers have grown tired of having to collect and store rainwater to meet their daily needs.
“Ever since Kampung Long Puak came into being 28 years ago, that’s what the villagers have been doing and they have been praying for the day when they can have access to clean water supply,” he said.
They did not want their children and grandchildren to go through what they have experienced for years, he said, adding that many youths from the village have moved to the urban areas due to the unavailability of clean water.
MHM carried out the Kampung Long Puak clean water project in collaboration with International Youth Centre (IYC) Kuala Lumpur as part of the latter’s “SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Among Orang Asli, Young Women And Youth In Rural Areas in Sabah and Sarawak” initiative.
The remote settlement first appeared on MHM’s radar about two years ago when one of its members Siti Shazleen Shazali, a native of Kampung Long Puak, suggested that the foundation carry out a humanitarian mission there.
In November 2017, Khairul Annuar and two other MHM members made their first trip to Kampung Long Puak to evaluate the situation over there and their main intention then was to help improve the status of the village youths.
“After we arrived there, we realised that the villagers had a more serious problem. How can we develop the youths when they lack even the most basic necessity, that is, clean water?
“I also observed that only the elderly folks were living in the village as most of the youngsters had left,” he said.
During discussions with some of the residents and the village representative Pius Jau, they expressed their desire to have access to clean water supply.
Khairul Annuar and his team were told that there was a waterfall located about four kilometres from Kampung Long Puak that was a potential source of clean water but for the villagers to get there, they have to cross the crocodile-infested Sungai Baram. Since it was dangerous to cross the river, they had no choice but to depend on rainwater.
Determined to provide clean water to the villagers of Kampung Long Puak, Khairul Annuar and his team, as well as IYC director Dr Mohamed Maliki Mohamed Rapiee, took the initiative to meet the relevant federal- and state-level government officials to get the necessary funding and assistance.
On Aug 29 last year, accompanied by Telang Usan State Assemblyman Dennis Ngau, they met Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg at his office in Kuching.
“The chief minister liked the gotong royong project (that we wanted to implement in Kampung Long Puak) and he agreed to help,” said Khairul Annuar, adding that in April this year, the budget for the project was approved.
Having secured the funds, MHM wasted no time in getting the project off the ground.
“I told YB (Ýang Berhormat) Ngau that we should get all the villagers, including the youths, involved in the project to make them feel that it is their project as well,” he said.
About 100 people were involved in the one-month gotong royong project and they comprised MHM members and villagers, including 70 youths who were working elsewhere and were summoned home to help out with the work.
“Even the elderly women were eager to lend a helping hand and watching them hard at work made some of us shed tears… it showed how strong their desire for clean water was,” said Khairul Annuar.
The project involved installing four water tanks — including one for filtration purposes — in the village and pipes in every unit in the longhouse.
Later, a dam was built at the nearby waterfall and the main pipeline was installed to channel water from the waterfall to the tanks and, subsequently after the water is filtered, to the individual units.
“All the work was done manually,” Khairul Annuar pointed out.
However, implementing the project had its own share of challenges, largely due to the remote location of Kampung Long Puak. Logistic costs were quite high as all the equipment and materials needed for the project had to be transported from Miri, a three-hour drive from the village with one section of the road not being in good condition as it is used by loggers.
The biggest challenge, he said, was to install the main pipe across the 150-metre wide Sungai Baram.
“All the workers had to go down to the river to lay the pipe on the riverbed,” he added.
MHM also plans to implement similar projects in the nearby Kampung Long Banyok (2,000 residents) and Kampung Uma Akeh (600 residents) to enable the villagers to enjoy clean water supply.
Meanwhile, the organisation has rallied the youths of Kampung Long Puak to set up an association to help develop their village.
“Now that there’s clean water supply, some of the youths who are working elsewhere are coming back home during the weekends. This is a good start,” Khairul Annuar said, adding that MHM intended to help the youths to venture into ecotourism to uplift their economic status.