Forgotten, Orang Asli in a Pahang town live off a landfill of toxic garbage


ROMPIN ― Bandar Muadzam Shah is a picturesque, attractive town. It is the kind of town that people hope they could retire to. Like Taiping in Perak; or Muar in Johor.

What does it not have? A university, hospital, colleges, beautifully landscaped botanical gardens, nice schools, clinics, restaurants and in these days of slow growth and high unemployment, it helps that the cost of living is low.

But scattered within minutes of the beautifully tarred two-lane highways and leafy roads are communities and settlements of different tribes of the Orang Asli, people who have lived there for more than a hundred years in some cases. Maybe, it is an exaggeration to say the Orang Asli live there; they merely exist.

In the four settlements we visited within a 10-15 minute radius of the charming town, only one had electricity and none had running water. In one of the settlements, houses using political parties’ plastic banners, presumably from the 2018 general elections, as their roofing and curtains for their windows, the Orang Asli, of the Jakun tribe, bath, drink, empty their bowels and cook from a stagnant pond. Barely yards away, along the highway, there is electricity and running water. The paradox, nay, the travesty and injustice, did not escape us.

But perhaps the one that tugged hardest at the heart strings was the lot of the Jakun in a landfill operated by a company whose board of directors are filled with Datuks, who did not respond to e-mails and letters to work with charitable groups willing to help the Orang Asli.


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