Over 40% Of Penan Children Malnourished – More Shocking Secrets From The Reports On Murum

701 children in these villages have no access to school

We want to thank donors to the Murum appeal. CONTRARY TO RUMOURS PUT ABOUT BY BN, THE BLOCKADE IS STILL UNDERWAY AS THE PEOPLE OF MURUM DEMAND FULL NEGOTIATION OVER THEIR DEMANDS. We have raised a growing sum which has already been used to send foodstuffs to the village people blockading at the roadside. The appeal will continue until further notice

Over 40% of the under five year olds living in the Penan villages due to be flooded at Murum are malnourished and 12% are severely malnourished, according to yet another shocking report that the government has attempted to keep secret.

This is just one of a series of disgraceful admissions about the criminal neglect of these tribal people by Taib Mahmud in the wake of his state-sponsored destruction of their forests.

Other monumental failings are in the categories of education and health.

Among the devastating conclusions of this official document are:

The majority of the families interviewed (46%) are always short of food….Seventy-five percent of the respondents interviewed reported that they always run out of food. “[14.3. Cont Eth Rpt]

“The data presented on school enrollment is actually a description of a dismal failure. This is not a failure on the part of the community but on the part of the education authority”. 

“It takes about two hours to reach the clinic, while from the farthest long house, Long Luar, the trip to the clinic takes about six hours…there is no available public transport”[14.4.2 Contemporary Eth Rpt]

79% of all deliveries are “unsafe” home births and “there are no reliable statistics on infant deaths” or of any ” programmes implemented by the Health Department”[14.1/14.2 Contemporary Eth Rpt]

The Penan who have moved to Asap “live in buildings once used as a chicken farm houses”[15.1 Contemporary Eth Rpt]

“Among the Penan there is a universal desire to be registered and to have official identify cards so that they can benefit from government assistance programmes and be recipients of the government services requiring proof of identity”. However, “the majority of the community (over 80%) are still without identity cards” [4.4 Contemp Eth Rpt]

Only 2% of the children go to school and there is 100% drop out rate of children from 5 affected villages. “The reasons given by all students for this high drop out rate related to no money and no transport to get to school”

“The nearest Penan village (Long Peran) is 90 kilometers away from Asap [only school] along mainly timber roads while the furthest (Long Malim) is approximately 250 kilometers away.”[15.6.1 Contemporary Eth Rpt]

Only one Penan is employed in the government service “[ Contemp Eth Report]

“Since 2005, the community has never received any assistance or services from either the Government or NGOs”[10.14 Contemp Eth Rpt]


Following our release of the resettlement plans the Penan have stepped up their protests and intensified the blockade against lorries constructing the dam by cutting off a second road to the site.

Living “below subsistence level” and worse off than before 

The so-called Contemporary Ethnography report on these vulnerable people was commissioned in 2010 as part of a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment that was designed to be “the first step in achieving ‘international standards’ for the resettlement of those communities affected by the Murum HEP“.

Determined or just desperate? The blockade moves in to its second week

In fact it has been kept secret in contravention of all international protocols covering the resettlement of indigenous peoples affected by dams, including the United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Malaysia is a party.

Worse, no moves have been made to reach agreement with these people over what should happen to them when their communities are due to be flooded early next year.

Today, we are able to release the first public copy of this study on the condition of the Western Penan, leaked by disgusted insiders within the Sarawak Government.

It details how these Penan moved from sustainable lifestyles in the 1990s to their current “below subsistance level” lifestyle, thanks to logging and the absence of any state assistance to make up for the destruction of their lands.

The details of the report lay bare the appalling and shocking extent of Taib Mahmud’s cynical neglect of these jungle people, who have been left literally starving as a result of his destruction of their lands and sources of food.

What happened to the timber billions? – We ask the ‘richest man in Malaysia’ 

The excuse for the mass timber extraction and environmental destruction of Sarawak was that the billions of ringgit made from all that wood would assist these people in “progress and development”, yet the report makes this stark conclusion:

“All the communities are currently living below subsistence level. In relative terms, their old way of life was seen as far wealthier.. Formerly, they had easy access to abundant resources that met their dietary needs and provided products that could be traded or sold. Even after monetisation, well into the 1990s communities could make a decent living from combining subsistence and commercial production. This does not seem to be possible anymore as the forest resources have diminished and access to the remaining areas is difficult and time consuming.Goods that were once readily available have become scarce”

No right to exist – 80% have been denied Identity Cards to make them eligible for government assistance

So, we ask Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, who has now been confirmed by his own daughter-in-law as the richest man in Malaysia and probably the whole of South East Asia, what happened to all those billions of ringgit from selling off the jungle that belonged to the Penan, while they stay starving, without doctors, schools or transport?

We also ask Sarawak Energy and its ‘Partners” at Hydro-Tasmania on what basis do they think their management of their social and corporate responsibilities towards the Penan reach benchmarks that would acceptable under the protocols of the International Hydropower Association, which it hosts next year or that of UNDRIP?

Systematic ethnic genocide

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of Taib’s neglect of these Penan people, who have lived in these jungles for generations, is the refusal of the brutal old tyrant to even admit that they officially exist.

The report makes clear that the communities have applied numerous times for their ID Cards, without which it is impossible to apply for basic services and employment. Yet there has been deliberate official obstruction:

“Among the Penan there is a universal desire to be registered and to have official identify cards so that they can benefit from government assistance programmes and be recipients of the government services requiring proof of identity. The results of the household survey indicate that while a reasonably large proportion (60%) have birth certificates the majority of the community (over 80%) are still without identity cards “[4.4 Contemp Eth Rpt]

Worryingly, the report confirms that as the waters start to rise above their homes and villages and flood their lands, only those who have these Identity Cards will be eligible even for the pittance in compensation and resettlement provisions that the Government are planning to provide. Yet there has been clear bureaucratic non-compliance with these people’s rights:

“41% have applied for one in 2009 but are yet to receive the card. Ownership of Mykad is an important issue as this document will be important for administering compensation payments, resettlement agreements, education registration, and provision of other government services.”[4.14 Contemp Eth Rpt]

Whole families have joined the blockade, fighting for survival. Will they be left to die?

Is this merely an attempt to save more money by denying these people their rights?

Is it just another attempt to prevent people who would reject Taib Mahmud from having a chance to cast their vote?

Or is this deliberate and murderous revenge against the Penan for having so publicly exposed the greed, plunder and corruption of Taib Mahmud through their blockades against the loggers, which have received publicity around the globe?

No government assistance

Time and again the report points out how these people, who are so well below the poverty line often living on just a fraction of the RM850 considered to be the rural poverty index in Sarawak, receive no help from the state.  In terms of shelter they say they saw no evidence of government support:

“To our knowledge, Penan have not received government assistance similar to the Housing Aid Programme offered to the Orang Asli by the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development via the Department of Orang Asli Affairs. The process of building a new Penan longhouse may therefore take years over the course of a series of partial aid given by different timber companies.”[3.4 Contemp Eth Rpt]

Neither, having destroyed their old way of life and culture, has the government moved to provide jobs:

“Apart from working in the timber industry and the oil palm plantations, there were a few cases of Murum Penan employed in government agencies or working for individuals in other communities. These cases are reported individually below:

(i) House maids – There are two cases of Penan women working as housemaids earning a monthly wage of RM200; both are from Long Wat.

(ii) Government servant – Only one Penan is employed in the government service earning RM 2,500 per month.[ Contemp Eth Report]

And what about the all important support for food and education, now that the forests are bare?:

“The Penan longhouse communities claim that since 2005, the community has never received any assistance or services from either the Government or NGOs. This has left them the impression that they are just insignificant in the power equation and easily forgotten. Given their remoteness and the difficulty and expense to visit them regularly, this sentiment is understandable”.

So what about agricultural assistance to help them help themselves?

“In 2009 most of the Long Wat households did not establish rice fields because they had no seed to plant due to total crop failure in 2008. Furthermore, they could not obtain seeds from Penan farmers of other longhouses (as most were in a similar situation) nor did they receive any assistance from any of the relevant government departments.

Malaysia’s shame

Few fish left in these rivers muddied by logging and polluted now by oil palm pesticides and fertilisers

The genocidal tactics of Taib Mahmud come on top of a string of outrages and corruptions that leave a stink of shame on Malaysia’s Federal Government, which still refuses to get rid of this greedy ruler.  Constantly they have begged for Taib to leave, time and again he has promised and then refused.

It seems he wants to ensure that he has washed away and destroyed the very last of Sarawak’s unique and special tribal cultures and stolen all they have left for him to steal, before he feels his work is done.

And Najib seems willing to do his bidding. Just this week BN announced an 80% cut in the rural education budget for Sabah and Sarawak!  Is this the Prime Minister’s response to the shocking conditions of communities like the Western Penan?

As the report sums up:

“The data presented on school enrollment is actually a description of a dismal failure. This is not a failure on the part of the community but on the part of the education authority. The oft quoted figures by the education authorities state that Malaysia’s literacy rate is above ninety percent with free education for all until form five (about 18 years old). However, in the Murum valley the authority has failed miserably. There is not even one school for the eight villages, where more than 1,500 people live. In other words these people have been marginalised”[15.8.4 Contemp Eth Rpt]

It is not just the Education Department that has been a “dismal failure” for the Penan and the people of Sarawak.

Eager pupils – it is a rare chance for the Penan children to learn when missionary volunteers drop by to spend a day or so trying to teach

The writers of BN’s own official reports have heaped so much shame on their political clients with their objective and professional analysis of the state of Penan that, 5 years since the construction at Murum began, 5 years after these reports should have been published and then negotiated and agreed, they were still kept locked up as secret documents.

Taib even had five years to do something about this situation and show some small piece of humanity and generosity towards these people who have lived so much longer in Sarawak than his own second generation family, yet he has chosen to watch them starve and (he hopes) to die out for ever.


Our thanks go out to those generous donors who have already contributed to our Murum Emergency Fund. We will be using these donations to support the purchase of provisions for the Penan people who are staging the blockade.

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