Thousands of villagers in the Ba’Kelalan constituency in Lawas have registered their strong opposition against the construction of a proposed road that will pass through Puneng Kelalan and Muda rivers.
They claimed that any roads works will pollute the river, disrupting the community’s primary source of water.
Work on a 45-km stretch from Ba’ Kelalan to Bario in the highland is expected to start soon. It is being undertaken by the army as part of its “Jiwa Murni” programme.
While welcoming the construction of the road, Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said the villagers have been told by the Land and Survey Department officials that the proposed route for the new road would pass through Puneng Kelalan – the upper reaches of Kelalan River – and Muda rivers, crossing many streams and both Muda and Kelalan rivers.
“This is a matter of great concern to the villagers in the area. Although they welcome the road construction as they are aware of the improvement it will bring, their lives and livelihood will be at risk.
“The road works will inevitably cause the pollution of these streams and rivers on which the people depend for their daily needs.
“It would mean great suffering for the villagers because the source of the feed piped water and the main wet padi irrigation for Kampung Buduk Nur and Kampung Long Langai and all the villages downstream will be severely disrupted,” he said.
Bian said the villagers are appreciative of the road but want it rerouted.
“The villagers request that the new road take the route of the old road along Long Lemutut, Natad Olo and Sungai Burak, as these pose no threat to their water supply,” said Bian.
He added that he will be writing a letter to the army headquarters in Kuala Lumpur together with the petition submitted by the villagers.
Copies of the letter would be sent to the state authorities, he said.
Second appeal to authorities
Bian said this would be the second letter that he would be writing to the army on behalf of the villagers on the same issue.
He said he had also raised the matter in the State Legislative Assembly but thus far there was no reponse from the authorties.
It seemed like the government purposely wants to construct the road to pass through the upper reaches of the Kelalan and Muda rivers, which had plenty of timber.
“What makes the people more worried is that somebody will get the timber [contract].
“And if this also happens, it will further worsen the pollution problems of the villagers downstream,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Ninth Infantry Brigade Commander Brigadier-General Stephen Mundaw said when the construction of the road from Bario to Ba’Kelalan is completed, the people will be able to travel from Lawas to Ba’Kelalan and all the way to Bario.
“It will be a difficult task as we are faced with rugged terrains, altitude and weather. We need to construct bridges along the way before we are able to complete the whole project,” he was quoted as saying.
Currently, people who want to visit Bario have to fly in small planes.