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Saturday, October 31, 2020

'Food was major concern for vulnerable communities during MCO'

 


Food was a major source of concern for some vulnerable communities, such as the homeless, the refugees and the Orang Asli community amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the various movement control orders (MCO).

Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid said they were out on the streets on the night of March 18, the day MCO started, to provide their mobile soup kitchen and mobile medical services to the homeless community in the area.

“It was so eerie, I thought to myself, is this what the end of the world looks like, it was so empty.

“But the homeless were there and they were worried about food. I thought we had to find ways to make sure we did not ignore them,” she said during a Zoom webinar entitled "Speaking for the Unspoken: The Vulnerable Population and Covid-19" hosted by the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia (MLSM) today.

She said Pertiwi has been providing food to the homeless throughout the pandemic by asking them to collect their food from the side of a restaurant where they could limit physical contact.

However, the question now is what to do moving forward as the pandemic does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

“This is becoming a serious problem which we have got to sit down with the authorities and agencies and find solutions,” she said.

The problem is that it is not clear which government agency or ministry or department is in charge of the homeless community in Malaysia, she said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives Dr Susheela Balasundaram and Wong Chun Ting also said that food security was one of the key areas of need for refugees during the pandemic.

Aside from food security, they said access to health services was also a big concern as the UNHCR attempted to communicate to the refugee community about the pandemic and how to access healthcare.

Other key areas of need for refugees during the pandemic include cash assistance, legal protection services and mental health services, among others, they said.

Meanwhile, Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) founder Colin Nicholas said food was also a big problem for the Orang Asli community during the MCO.

“People themselves barricaded their own villages. Whenever there’s a pandemic, they will move and isolate themselves. The problem was food because everything came unexpectedly.

“Some 60 percent of the Orang Asli depend on agriculture, rubber and oil palm. (During the MCO), cash was in short supply (for the Orang Asli community),” he said.

So the COAC, together with Impian Malaysia, set up a fund and raised about RM380,000 and distributed food to 30,000 families and 190 villages.

He said they would work with local coordinators on the ground, who would contact them and give them a list of how much they needed.

“That night itself, the money would be banked into their account and they would buy food from their local food stores.

“This is empowering the Orang Asli to do it themselves, without breaking the MCO, without physical contact,” Colin said.

The Orang Asli community has been fortunate in that there have been few Covid-19 cases among them so far, he said.

However, he said, if ever someone from a village were to get infected somehow, it was likely that almost everyone in that community would get Covid-19 within the next few days as they were very closely knit.

He also corrected the perception that the Orang Asli were “fleeing” into the forest to escape Covid-19.

Instead, he said, they were retreating into the forests where it was safer and better, and he described this as a “natural phenomenon” for people who are used to living in the forests.

He said the Orang Asli have often voiced out their concerns so they are not the “unspoken” but rather, they are the “forgotten”.

The Orang Asli should be provided with the right to self-determination as well as the right to free, prior and informed consent, he said.

“Once we have that, the Orang Asli health situation will be improved,” he said. - Mkini

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