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Monday, January 30, 2023

Coping with Covid-19 Pandemic in the Sarawak Rural Areas

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The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll of the social economic as well as the wellbeing of the people in Sarawak, especially the longhouse community living in the rural areas. However, in the midst of the outbreak, numerous efforts have been done to ease the burden of those living the rural areas.

During the Movement Control Order (MCO) period, the rural communities in Sarawak has been complaining on technical breakdown to automated teller machines (ATM) in Bank Simpanan Nasional branches in rural district.

Banking

This is mainly caused due to massive amount of people using it at a time. For instance, it was reported people in the rural areas have travel as far as Long Busang to Belaga (eight hours journey), which is the nearest town just to get some cash. After that, they have to join a long queue. To resolve this issue, the State government is collaborating with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) and other financial institutions to expand their banking services to rural areas by providing mobile bank services equipped with ATM facilities. The state government would also allocate RM1.6 million capital expenditure to BSN to operate their mobile branch services in rural areas.

The initiative would make it easier for rural folks to receive cash aid provided by the state and federal governments during the movement control order (MCO).

The State government would help purchase vehicles equipped with automated teller machines and counters for mobile banking and the bank has come up with a schedule to visit these places. The mobile banking was one of seven initiatives announced as part of the State government’s third special assistance package to address the people’s wellbeing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Food aid

Shortage of food supplies is also one of the main problems faced by the rural community due to the restricted movement during MCO. The State government has provided allocation to the State Farmers Organisations to buy produce from smallholders during MCO.

Under the Sarawakku Sayang Special Assistance Package, a total of RM16.4 million is allocated for basic food supplies throughout the state, where it would be used to supply essential food items to target groups in the state, especially in rural and remote areas.

The target groups will be identified by divisional and district disaster management committees in cooperation with relevant government agencies, NGOs and elected representatives’ service centres. The target groups include households in rural areas, the urban poor and those who have lost their jobs or income due to the MCO.

Deputy Chief Minister YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan announced that 380,887 beneficiaries have received the food aid implemented during MCO to curb the spread of coronavirus disease in Sarawak.

He added that the divisional and district disaster committees would also set up distribution centres in their respective areas to ensure that food distribution is coordinated smoothly and in compliance with the MCO. According to a resident from Kampong Bawang at Puncak Borneo, he received the food package aid which comprised of a bag of rice, sugar, coffee and cooking oil. The food aid was distributed by the Jabatankuasa Kemajuan dan Keselamatan Kampung (JKKK) to over 200 household at his village. While he welcomed the initiative by both federal and state government to help the people who is facing food shortage during the MCO, he added that it might also be helpful if they were also given basic medical supplies as well as such as vitamin C. For remote areas such as Belaga, Baram, Batang Ai, Kapit, Ba’Kelalan and Long Semadoh, the Armed Forces (ATM) and the Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) had agreed to assist by transporting the food items via helicopter.

Economy and Social Welfare The State government has allocated RM1.5 million to the State Farmers Organisations to buy produce from smallholders during MCO. As most of the rural community are farmers, this initiative is seen as a welcoming initiative to ease their burden and provide an income to them during the Covid-19 outbreak. The funds would then be channelled to the respective farmers organisations state wide for this purpose.

An allocation of RM200,000 had been allocated to the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) branches in Sarawak to buy the farmers’ produce and organise farmers’ markets.

Farmers were urged to approach both organisations in order to sell their produce, where the organisations in turn will bring their produce to the market.

Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) has banned interdistrict travel to further strengthen measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the state.

Logistics

Under MCO over Covid-19, rural residents who want to travel beyond the restricted area must obtain permits from the nearest district police. However, rural areas here are given conditional relaxation over the restriction of travel within 10-km radius from a person’s residence.

Rural folk has been lamenting that it would be difficult for them to visit the hospitals and shops to get essentials as some of their residency is located far within the 10 km radius restriction from the nearest town.

Apart from that, exemption is given for two people to travel to work at to their farm or paddy field during the MCO.

Under the MCO, SDMC has given an exemption for farmers and their wives to travel in the same vehicle or motorcycle to go to their farms as they need to go together to harvest crops at their farms or paddy field.

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