Official figures state that the poverty rate in Malaysia was down to just 0.6 percent as of last year, but poverty remains disproportionately high among the Orang Asli community.
According to Colin Nicholas, the founder and coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), figures from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2014 report suggest that 34 percent of the Orang Asli live in poverty.
"This means that one-third of the 205,000 Orang Asli are poor," Nicholas said at the End Poverty Campaign event organised by the World Bank and UNDP in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
The data, however, was taken between 2010 and 2011, at a time when the prices of commodities, such as rubber and oil palm, were high and when some Orang Asli were even buying cars.
“Now poverty has increased. (So) our estimate is that about 75 to 80 percent of the Orang Asli are poor, not 34 percent."
Nicholas (photo) was among the speakers at a panel discussion on poverty during the event. His topic was poverty from the perspective of the Orang Asli community.
Fellow panellist Munirah Abdul Hamid, the founder of Pertiwi Soup Kitchen, said poverty would not be eradicated until certain fundamental issues are addressed, especially red tape.
Citing undocumented children as an example, Munirah said it was often that when they become adults, they would be turned away from employment, forcing them to turn to the sex industry, among other vices.
"I have approached the government many times, but the first question the officers ask is: 'We have to look at the father, is the father local?'"
Munirah said transgender people too often do not have proper documents, resulting in many of them resorting to becoming sex workers.
Cannot get out of the trap
"If they don’t have a job, they won’t be able to get out from the trap that they are in right now," she stressed.
Some elderly people find themselves ineligible for financial assistance from the government due to the lack of necessary documents.
"They end up not having an income and sleeping on the street corridors," she said.
Munirah, known for her various community work, also cited the predicament of unwed mothers especially those within the Jalan Chow Kit vicinity.
"The unwed mothers, their numbers are increasing so rapidly. The children I once fed, they are now becoming pregnant," said Munirah, her voice choked with emotion.
Earlier during the event, Kenneth Simler and Michael Woolcock of the World Bank shared the World Bank Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016 report.
Simler said although progress in reducing poverty has been good globally, it has not been good enough.
"The progress is insufficient to end poverty by 2030," he noted.
Woolcock, on the other hand, said although global inequality has been on the decline since the 1990s, more inclusive growth is needed to end poverty by 2030.
Right combination of policies needed
Citing some success stories of countries that have reduced poverty rates, he said such instances were due to the implementation of the right policies as well as some "good luck".
Apart from policies that work, countries must also invest in children's education and develop an effective healthcare system.
Speaking to reporters later, Woolcock noted how Malaysia, like many countries, emphasised on providing the "basic ingredients" to enhance the well-being of its people.
"But the big issue moving forward is to sustain that... providing them is a logistical task in some sense.
"But combining them, like a cake... providing the ingredients is one thing, learning how to put them all together is the next challenge," Woolcock added.
The poverty line in Peninsular Malaysia is a montly income of RM760, while the figure is RM1,050 in Sabah and RM910 in Sarawak.
Official data states that 2.7 million households fall under the bottom 40 percent of income earners (B40). - Mkini