KUALA LUMPUR: A water quality expert suggests that periodic sampling of the river water used by orang asli be conducted by the Department of Environment (DOE), particularly in light of two reported deaths from the Batek tribe due to pneumonia.
Water Quality and Modelling specialist Dr Zaki Zainuddin said although the Kelantan DOE had earlier confirmed that the river in Kuala Koh, Pos Lebir, Gua Musang was free of pollution, the periodic tests were necessary to obtain more accurate results.
He said DOE should conduct samplings after and before a rain because the results would be different.
“Water after rain involves running water and we cannot decide with one test alone. A thorough analysis should be done, like microbiological testing to detect bacterial content, which is not the problem if the orang asli boil the water before drinking it.
“The problem is if the river water contains chemicals and heavy metals such as arsenic, aluminium, mercury, nickel, cadmium, lead and iron as these won’t disappear even when the water is boiled,“ he told Bernama when contacted here today.
He said heavy metal content could only be detected by chemical testing, which was necessary considering that a mining site and oil palm plantation were also located in the area.
Prior to the latest incident, there were media reports that some of the residents had contracted a fungal infection, which Zaki opined could have been due to polluted water.
“Skin problems are usually caused by bacteria either in the water used or for drinking and can be due to heavy metal.
“We must remember that orang asli have a lower body resistance and therefore more vulnerable to any disease,“ he said.
Meanwhile, Natural Heritage Protection Association president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said the government must take immediate action to resettle the residents to a safer area before the situation worsens.
She said the new settlement must have treated water supply to prevent the residents from resorting to river water for their basic needs.
“I visited the area yesterday and the situation they were in was pathetic, which is sad.
“The government must seriously attend to this matter, particularly the mining operation which is still continuing even though the company’s contract has already expired.
“I also hope a check-up would be done on each of the residents, especially the children and senior citizens, to find out what exactly are they afflicted with,“ she said. — Bernama