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New Straits Time 06 April 2001

News Analysis

The socio-economic status of Bukit Pelandok remains an enigma
By R. Sittamparam

THE socio-economic status of Bukit Pelandok in Lukut, Negri Sembilan, which is slowly emerging from the Nipah and Japanese encephalitis outbreak that hit the area in 1999, remains a puzzle to the general public and residents alike.

Although the authorities have repeatedly declared the area safe of the deadly viral encephalitis disease with the culling of all the pigs there, the residents and the general public do not seem fully convinced about this.

The ambiguity surrounding Bukit Pelandok's future has also provided fodder for many a political party which, although using the issues prevalent, have not done anything to improve the lot of the people there.

Life is beginning to pick up in the area, reputed to be the most economically vibrant spot in the State before the disease outbreak; what with its status as Southeast Asia's biggest pig farming area.

Former pig breeders and pig farm workers alike are slowly moving into other economic activities such as oil palm growing, animal husbandry, fish farming and others.

However, a recent report on the death of a 22-year-old who succumbed to the deadly Nipah virus after being exposed to it during the initial stages of the pig culling exercise at Bukit Pelandok, has caused a furore among both the residents and authorities.

Rumours spread among the residents, livestock buyers and people in surrounding areas, that the little known Nipah virus, first detected during the disease outbreak at Bukit Pelandok, was now being transmitted via other livestock animals such as goats.

The dead man, R. Kathirasen, who died on Jan 29, had been working as a farm assistant at a livestock farm in the area.

It was also rumoured that the farm owner and his wife had contacted the Nipah virus as well but had recuperated after receiving treatment.

When news of Kathirasen's death broke out almost a month later, livestock farmers at Bukit Pelandok found difficulty marketing their animals and other farm produce.

Adding to the public alarm was the death of a Nipah patient Lai Poh Ann in the same area on Feb 7.

The failure of the authorities concerned including the State Veterinary Services Department and Health Department to provide the necessary explanation regarding the case also fueled the residents' anxiety.

S. Sothinathan, the MP for the Teluk Kemang constituency which also covers Lukut, had expressed sadness over the rumours about the Nipah/JE virus, as their effect on residents there had been most adverse.

"I would like to emphasise that there has been no new case of Nipah or JE in the Bukit Pelandok area.

"The two people who died recently had been exposed to the virus during the disease outbreak in 1999 and they had not been going for their regular hospital check-ups," said Sothinathan, who is also the Health Ministry Parliamentary Secretary.

He said the Health and Veterinary Services departments had been constantly monitoring Bukit Pelandok since the disease outbreak there.

"We have been regularly sampling the soil, water and condition of the people there to ensure the area is totally free of the disease."

The ambiguity that surrounds the Bukit Pelandok area has continuously provided much mileage for political parties, even before the Nipah/JE outbreak.

While the spot had long been a jostling ground for the MCA and DAP, things have taken a peculiar twist with Pas now showing its concern for the pig breeders there.

It all started when Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat visited the area on March 11. After delivering a ceramah in the town area, the Pas consultative council head embarked on a visit to the Integrated Pig Farming Area at Tanah Merah nearby.

While there he received a memorandum from a group of individual pig farmers seeking help from the Opposition party to help resolve their problems. The farmers are keen to continue pig farming activities at the IPFA.

(The Government has yet to make any decision on whether pig rearing would be allowed at the fully completed IPFA.)

However, Negri Sembilan Pig Farmers Association secretary Ng Lay Choo said the problems faced by farmers affected by the Nipah and JE virus during the 1999 outbreak, should not be politicised.

"I do not understand why political parties like Pas want to politicise this issue. Please leave the breeders alone."

She said the association, which has about 670 members, had nothing to do with the memorandum handed over to Nik Abdul Aziz during his recent visit to Bukit Pelandok.

"We did not even know that he was there on that day and the memorandum has nothing to do with us."

The memorandum must have been given to Nik Abdul Aziz by individual breeders, she said.

Ng also said it was not true the claims by pig breeders that the Government had failed to look into their predicament.

"The Government did extend assistance to is just a matter of whether the assistance is adequate or not. It is not fair, therefore, to say that the Government failed to look into their predicament."

She said the association would work closely with the ministry and the Veterinary Services Department to assist the farmers.


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