The death of four Chinese national miners in Sarawak last month has brought to light the shocking environmental devastation and safety issues facing 38 Iban longhouses in Abok and Silantik in Pantu area.
For the past 28 years, the residents of these longhouses have been complaining to the authorities about the pollution caused by coal mines in the area. No action has been taken.
According to them, their farm lands have been destroyed, their drinking water sources polluted and their personal safety threatened.
They have lodged reports against the miners but except for a cursory visit by the director of Mines and the State Resources Planning and Management Ministry’s permanent secretary, nothing has happened.
Said a Kampung Abok spokesman Jacob Imang: “Following our complaints, the director of Mines and the ministry’s permanent secretary visited the sites. We did not hear anything after that. Our complaints just stopped there.”
“Besides affecting our farm lands and our health, the mines have also caused environmental destruction and pollution to rivers such as Sungai Sanjau and their ecosystems,” he said.
According to Imang, the pollution is so bad that the Sanjau River which they are dependent on is “just dead”.
Unknown to these villagers was the fact that the mines belong to Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s daughter, Zaleha, and his cronies.
Luckyhill Mining owns some 10 mines in Sarawak which employ about 200 Chinese nationals and fewer than 10 locals.
WTK and a Korean are major shareholders, and other small shareholders include Benedict Bujang Tembak, Zaleha Binti Mahmud (Taib’s daughter), Halimah Abdullah (wife of former Commissioner of Police Hamdan Sirat) and Abang Abdul Karim Openg (Senior Minister Abang Johari’s brother).
Explosives kept underground
Kampung Abok’s plight came to light again after two explosions occurred in the mines on March 30, causing the deaths of four Chinese Nationals and injured nine others. (Their bodies were cremated on April 9).
“Now we are more concerned with our safety as the mines exploded in my land,” Imang said, pointing out that the farmers are not allowed to till their land near the mines.
He was told that the explosives are kept in the underground tunnels.
Last month’s explosion was a second incident. The first one happened in 1999.One person was killed.
The whole incident was hushed-up by the authorities, but the villagers knew that the decease’s family was paid a paltry sum of RM7, 000 as compensation.
Imang, who is a retired school teacher, said: “Our safety should be of prime concern now. We are not safe now, we have never been safe.
“We urge the authorities to suspend the operations of the mines pending full investigations and find out the root cause of the problems.
“New measures should be taken to ensure our safety as well the safety of the workers from China,” he said.
Suspend mining operations
On river pollution, Imang said that before the coal could be transported to Kuching, it had to be flushed by clean water from Sungai Sanjau.
“The mud, the coal debris and the poison are washed out to Sungai Sanjau. The water goes down to Pantu Bazaar where the water from the river is sucked into the Pantu Water plant and it is distributed to consumers in Pantu Bazaar, Lachau and nearby longhouses including Abok.
“I believe the number of people consuming water from this river is between 7,000 and 8,000,” he said.
Imang also said the Luckyhill Mining had failed to pay compensation for their land now under the mines.
They promised to pay, but their promise remained unfulfilled until today, he said.
A Sarawak PKR vice-chairman See Chee How agreed that the mines be suspended pending full investigations.
“This is to ensure no more lives will be lost and to mitigate the impact on the environment.
“This is our main concern,” he said, adding that Second Resource Planning and Management Minister Awang Tengah Ali Hassan should personally look into the matter.