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7 years and waiting for Sabah villagers made homeless by flames

Hundreds of families are still waiting for the assistance promised by the state government after their homes were burnt down.

Fazreen Kamal
2 minute read
Many of the villagers at Kampung Sabong in Sepanggar, Kota Kinabalu have had to rebuild their homes as best they can on their own.
Many of the villagers at Kampung Sabong in Sepanggar, Kota Kinabalu have had to rebuild their homes as best they can on their own.

In 2013, a huge fire razed nearly 500 houses in a village in Sepanggar, Kota Kinabalu.

Seven years and two state governments later, the villagers are still waiting for the help promised when they lost their homes.

Pusiana Utukmani, 65, is just one of many whose house in Kampung Sabong was burnt down. She and her family were forced to use their own money to rebuild.

“It’s difficult for us,” she told MalaysiaNow. “We don’t have a fixed income as we do odd jobs around the village to earn an income.

“We had to forage in the forest for enough wood to rebuild our home.”

Pusiana Utukmani remains cheerful despite the difficulties her family has faced since their home burnt down.

Cases of such fires are common in Sabah, with the fire and rescue department estimating at least 1,543 reported last year alone in the city centre as well as the districts of Tuaran and Penampang.

In the case of the 2013 blaze, firefighters had trouble containing the spread of the flames as the houses were built in close proximity with one another.

By the time the fire was brought under control, 433 homes had been destroyed.

Other villagers from Kampung Sabong told MalaysiaNow that they were only given tents to live in after they lost their homes.

At that point, the state was under Barisan Nasional (BN).

But even after Warisan took over in 2018, the villagers were still waiting.

Satria Sudi, 43, is upset at BN and Warisan alike. She told MalaysiaNow that the promised aid should be given if either side wants a chance in the Sept 26 state election.

Another villager who lost his home in the 2013 fire stands outside a makeshift house in Kampung Sabong.

“They only know how to take care of themselves,” she said. “None of their promises were kept. We have been forced to board with others.

“I am angry because we have families and it is very uncomfortable having to live with other people.

“If we had to wait six months for aid, that would be all right. But we have been waiting seven years and have received nothing. What has happened to their promises?”

Across the state in Kampung Gas, Sandakan, the villagers had a similar story.

There, 90 houses burnt down in 2018, forcing them to live in narrow, stuffy container homes.

Their village is seen as a BN stronghold, but they say Warisan, led by Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, should resolve their situation without taking into account their political differences.

“I’m not saying that BN is good, but we believed that Warisan would help us and until now, there has been nothing,” Patimang Sudan said.

“It seems as though no one wants to help us.”

They are not looking for a life of luxury, he added – just enough to live comfortably together with their families.