Twin crises of Covid-19, MCO highlight plight of Sarawak’s growing urban poor

Dr Madeline Berma

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, Apr 21: The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing movement control order (MCO) which was enforced to prevent its spread, are considered as twin crises which should serve as wake-up calls for the government to improve itself holistically.

Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia Dr Madeline Berma pointed out that the two crises warranted urgent measures to be taken to improve any weakness in order to improve and to further develop.

“These twin crises are a wake-up call for Sarawak cities and urban areas, where improvements in emergency and policy responses to protect people and the economy, and planning are needed.

“There is an urgent need for the government to contain the virus spread and to protect the rakyat especially the poorest who face considerably worse health and economic outcomes.

“To set the stage now for fast economic recovery, harness technology such as big data, artificial intelligence, drone, satellite tracking and apps to manage the health-related crisis, design early warning systems (EWS) to collect data to provide concise and accurate warnings to form the basis of decisions in times of emergency; enact a law to protect the health and well-being of Malaysians during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Madeline told DayakDaily today.

Madeline, who is also Sarawak Suhakam commissioner, reiterated how MCO had impacted all Sarawakians in general, especially the urban poor.

“According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia (2019), the incidence of poverty in Sarawak is 0.6 per cent and urban poverty is 0.3 per cent.

“The incidence of poverty is expected to increase with the MCO, as a result of many self-employed who lost their source of income, workers who experienced a reduction in their wages/salaries and small businesses closing down,” she said.

Quoting the Department of Statistics, Malaysia 2020 Report on the impact of Covid-19, Madeline said, there were 56.3 per cent of total respondents in Sarawak, who claimed their financial situation is severely affected, 16.5 per cent affected, 20.7 per cent moderately affected, and the remaining 6.5 per cent least affected by MCO.

“I must emphasise that all Sarawakians are affected by the MCO, but not all are affected equally. The MCO revealed the breadth and depth of poverty and inequalities in the cities and urban areas in Sarawak.

“In the past, poverty has always been viewed as a rural phenomenon. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has given a glimpse of the hardships faced by the urban poor from the MCO. The Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately hurt the urban poor families living in slums across major cities like Kuching, Sibu, Miri,” she said.

Madeline asserted that MCO has resulted in some losing their jobs, while many have to work from home, some have to take half-paid or unpaid leave, for some experiencing reduced number of working hours, some have to accept lower wages but increased in workload.

“Many of the self-employed or working in the informal sector experienced a big drop in their monthly income.

“Besides the economic impact, MCO also affects the well-being of the poor in cities and urban areas in Sarawak. The lockdown has affected their food security, access to health and education,” she said.

However, Madeline commended both the Federal and State Governments’ quick response to the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

“The MCO and the Economic Stimulus Packages have provided the much-needed support in the short-term,” she added. —DayakDaily