Saturday, May 21, 2022

Bereft by floods and failed by system, ‘small people’ struggle alone

In Hulu Langat, many who applied for government assistance have been denied due to a variety of reasons.

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For 17 years, Zariah Shamsuddin lived with her family in a small house at Batu 18 in Hulu Langat, near Sungai Lui.

While life was not always easy, they never experienced tragedy or disaster – not until three weeks ago, when the area was hit by massive floods after days of continuous rain.

The family of three lost everything, from personal items kept for their sentimental value to the very house in which they lived.

Recalling the water that came gushing into the house that night in December last year, Zariah said it was the most terrifying thing she had ever seen.

“I can’t describe how scared I was at the time,” she said.

“The floodwater was so fast and high. It moved in circles, and it carried away so many things including household items, motorcycles and even logs.

“It was dark and raining heavily, and we could hear the loud sounds of things being crushed and destroyed.”

Zariah and her son look at the wreckage left at their village in Jalan Sungai Lui.

As the water level continued to rise, Zariah, her husband and their eight-year-old son climbed into a small boat. They tried to cling on to anything within reach, but the strong currents tore everything from their grasp and carried them further and further away from their house.

They ended up caught in a grove of bamboo trees where they waited for more than nine hours, bracing themselves against the gushing water until the level began to recede the next day.

Three weeks later, their situation has not improved by much.

For the first week after the flood destroyed their home, Zariah and her family lived in a tent. There they stayed until help began to arrive.

“When the water level began to go down, I took my son to my sister-in-law’s house,” she said. “After that, a friend’s family offered us their homestay.”

Zariah would spend the nights at the homestay but every morning she would return to what remained of her house, to salvage and clean up what she could.

“My husband meanwhile never left,” she said. “He set up a tent, and we would stay there doing what we could.”

Sitting in their temporary cabin, Zariah sorts through the clothes donated to her family by well wishers who heard about their plight.

While some might question their reluctance to leave the destruction and ruin of what was once a happy home, Zariah said there are still things there that they need to take care of.

Her husband had a small motorcycle workshop behind their house, where some motorcycles which had yet to be collected by their owners remain.

“He said people gave him their trust, so he needs to keep it. He always keeps his eyes open and is very alert for anything,” she said.

Now, she and her family stay in a small temporary cabin. An anonymous donor meanwhile gave them enough money to begin rebuilding at least some of their house. But it is slow going.

When the government first announced a slew of initiatives to help those affected by the floods, Zariah and her husband were filled with hope. But after waiting in line for hours with hundreds of others, their application was rejected.

Flood victims at Jalan Sungai Lui live in temporary cabins as they try to piece back their lives.

“They said this land is reserved land, so we could not get government assistance to build a house,” she said.

“We might also need to vacate this place if they ask us to. When I heard that, I didn’t know how to react anymore.

“We have been living here for years, some of us an entire lifetime. We pay our taxes and fulfil our responsibilities as citizens, but we can’t even get the assistance that we need when we are hit by a disaster.”

Zariah said many other villagers faced similar rejections for a number of reasons. Some were rejected as the names on the land grant were those of their parents who had passed away. Others meanwhile were rejected because they were not married.

She said there is just too much bureaucracy involved which only adds to the people’s burdens.

“The system doesn’t make it easier for us. It just burdens us even more and it makes us so stressed.

“Why can’t they just give some of the assistance that they promised? We are villagers. We are not aiming to be rich, we just want some kind of shelter.”

Unsure of what the future holds, Zariah nevertheless intends to remain strong. She said she and her husband would try to rebuild their home little by little with what they have.

As a citizen, though, she cannot deny her disappointment.

“But what can we do? We are just small people.”

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