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Mysterious deaths in Bakun Dam area

Despite being notified of several mysterious deaths in the
Bakun area, the Sarawak Health Department has done nothing.
KUCHING: Ten people who were hired by the Sarawak Forest Corporation (SFC) to “save” animals from being drowned, following the impoundment of the Bakun Dam, are now dead.

The dam was impounded in October last year. The 10 dead were allegedly killed by a mysterious disease.

Although the Health Depatment has been notified, it has done nothing, Bakun Community Safety Committee chairman Dr Ellie Luhat said today.

Luhat said the latest such death was 28-year-old Larry Kiding, a SFC worker who worked on the project.

Kiding’s father, Jugah Anak Kudi, told FMT that his son fell gravely sick after returning from Bakun Dam.

“We sent him to the hospital, but the hospital did not know what caused his sickness. We sent him to a private clinic. Again, we were told that the doctor could not determine what made him sick.

“Two days later he passed away,” said Jugah.

Angry and dissatisfied, Jugah asked for a post-mortem to be conducted on his son.

According to him, the doctors again could not determine the cause of his death.

The death of Jugah’s son came to light after Luhat called for an investigation into the death of the 10 SFC workers.

He believes they could have been exposed to infectious and deadly diseases such as melioidosis and leptospirosis (known locally as ‘penyakit kencing tikus’).

“So far 10 persons have died from the mysterious diseases and a number of others have been infected,” said Luhat.

Also in critical condition is the village penghulu (chief) who is in Bintulu Hospital.

More deaths

The penghulu was transported to the Bintulu Hospital when he collapsed during the recent visit of Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang to the dam.

“They (the 10 workers) were involved in moving large animals from the Bakun Dam water catchment area to higher ground and fell sick upon completion of the work.

“There have also been several mysterious deaths over the years in that area including a cousin of mine.

“Because of this, we want the government to confirm and identify the diseases, so that immediate and remedial actions can be taken.

“This may include vaccination,” Luhat said.

Melioidosis is caused by a bacterium (burkholderia pseudomailei) found in soil, rice fields and stagnant waters.

Victims acquire the disease when the contaminated soil comes in contact with an abraded area of the skin.

Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria called spirochete and is transmitted through contact with infected soil or water.

Angry ‘spirits’

Luhat, who is a retired Sarawak Timber Development Corporation (STIDC) officer, has been actively involved in the dam.

He believes that the change of biodiversity could have resulted in the spread of the diseases.

Local people believed that the “spirits” of the jungles are angry over the contruction of the dam and the destruction of the surroundings.

They believed their dead ancestors are also angry that their graves (pendam) have been submerged by the dam water.

Luhat said that he is sending letters to the relevant authorities to alert them of the mysterious deaths.

“These diseases can affect the tourism industry apart from the lives of the workers and the local people.

“The diseases can also affect the government’s plan to introduce aquaculture of ‘empurau’ which is Sarawak’s most famous and expensive fish,” he said, adding that the death of several tonnes of fish early this year could have been due to these diseases.

Luhat also wants the road from Bintulu to Bakun to be repaired as this is essential in the event of emergency.

Previously, it took slightly over two hours to travel by road to Bakun.

“But now it takes four or five hours, because of so many potholes caused by timber trucks,” he said.

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