IT was a rather warm Friday afternoon as dozens of flood victims from a village not far from Lake Kenyir in Hulu Terengganu gathered under a white canopy at the local school to receive a donation.
The floodwaters had receded a day or two before, but had taken a toll on the poor villagers, who are mostly rubber tappers and oil palm smallholders.
They had not been able to tap rubber trees or harvest oil palm fruits over the past few days. Already, as one local guy told me, the farmers were not happy with rubber and palm oil prices.
“This place was booming years ago,” he said.
Palm oil prices are hovering at around RM3,000 per tonne, much higher than RM1,900 in August 2015, but still below the record high of RM4,000 in 2008.
Rubber prices used to hit as high as RM8 per kg in 2011, but have fallen to around RM3 currently — still much higher than RM2 in 2008.
The flood victims were there to collect baskets of essential items donated by the Defence Ministry.
Its minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, had just landed after travelling via an air force helicopter from Tumpat, Kelantan, where he distributed similar aid to flood victims there.
Some villagers spoke about how they were touched by Hishammuddin’s gesture.
He gave no speeches at such events, but would take the time to pose for selfies with villagers and army personnel helping the victims.
Wearing his army uniform, he had been warmly welcomed by the imam at a mosque in Tumpat, where he performed Friday prayers.
That mosque is undergoing a RM4 million upgrading, funded by an allocation from the Prime Minister’s Department.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was also in Tumpat yesterday to meet flood victims, and he announced a RM10 million bridge project in the area to address the issue of stagnant floodwaters, or as locals call it, banjir termenung. The main reason, of course, is a lack of proper irrigation to ease floodwaters.
Najib’s deputy, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, has been to Kelantan twice since the floods hit the state on New Year’s Eve. He has announced RM800 million flood-mitigation projects in Sungai Golok and Sungai Kelantan.
Kelantan, which has been ruled by Pas for the last 26 years, saw its worst-ever floods in December 2014.
This year’s floods are nowhere near the scale of the 2014 floods.
But, the lessons of the 2014 floods are being applied this time around, in terms of preparedness, logistics and interagency coordination.
It is also about how the Federal Government is working harder to ensure a better delivery system for the benefit of the people in Kelantan.
Umno leaders on the ground told me that volunteers and agencies should be mobilised soon for post-flood recovery efforts and other corporate social responsibility work.
But, there are pockets of poverty in the state. One of them said there were 17,000 poor families in his area alone, who needed school uniforms, bags and shoes for their children.
Visiting Terengganu yesterday, Najib heard a big request from the state government for a RM500 million budget to repair roads and other facilities, such as schools.
With 2017 shaping up to be an election year and the outsize influence of rural voters, the government cannot afford to overlook the plight of poor rural folk.
The growing social and income gaps between the city and countryside could breed resentment. The grievances of the poor must be heard, too.
East Coast folk, especially, deserve a better deal.
A veteran newsman, Jalil believes that a good journalist should be curious and sceptical at the same time. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org