KOTA KINABALU, June 25, 2015:
Three weeks have passed and the people in Kundasang are still feeling the pinch in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The usually packed district is now left to deal with massive cancellations as visitors, both domestic and from abroad, are shying away from the disaster-stricken area.
Once drawing climbers from all over the world, Mount Kinabalu, Sabah’s precious heritage, is currently off limits due to the massive destruction following the June 5 earthquake that claimed the lives of 18 people.
The mountain guides are said to be the most affected ones, as they are currently out of a job until the national park, where Mount Kinabalu is located, is fully restored.
But the mountain guides are not the only ones affected by the earthquake and the many happenings that followed, such as the aftershocks and mudslides.
“We are victims of the earthquake too, and while we pity the plight of the mountain guides, we are also suffering because we are losing business as well,” a home-stay operator, Bensin Dani, said.
The 48-year-old operates a 10-room home-stay, that was named after him, on a hilly location in Kundasang for the past two years.
He said prior to the earthquake, business was considerably good, so much so that he was able to secure regulars to stay at his home-stay.
“I was looking forward to the school holidays this month as I had quite a number of bookings, including from my regulars from Kelantan,” he said.
But his hope was short lived when just days after the quake, he received cancellations which cost him several thousand ringgit.
“That was devastating but there’s nothing I can do. Of course to them, their safety comes first. I just hope they will not shy away forever,” Dani told The Rakyat Post, recently.
He, however, said that to date, bookings for July onwards are still in place, and he is keeping his fingers crossed, hoping they would not change their minds.
A local from Ranau, Dani said business picked up fast after he opened his doors in August 2013, adding that he did not have to invest in expensive promotion advertisements as his place became well known by word of mouth.
Dani humbly disclosed that his home-stay rooms were just ordinary ones and nothing close to a five-star facility, but, noted that the selling point was the first class scenery that greets his guests.
“My homestay may have just basic facilities for you, but I can assure my guests that the view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu will greet them if they choose to spend their holidays at my place,” he said.
He said that the recent quake had also left at least 300 rooms empty in Kundasang.
“I have heard complaints from other home-stay operators. We understand that the mountain guides are in need of help but the government must not forget that we are suffering too. We are also in need of attention,” he said.
Apart from home-stay and resort operators, highland vegetable farmers have also voiced out their grouses.
Shamshariff Sinul of Kampung Mesilou, about six kilometres from Kundasang town, said he had not gone to his farm for almost a month now.
“I have not gone to my farm since the quake, so I don’t know the condition of my crops. I dare not go there to check because of the aftershocks.
“Plus I cannot leave my family as I worry over their safety,” said the 32-year-old, who was among hundred others were forced to evacuate their homes and cramped in a mini hall in Kundasang after mudslides hit their village over the weekend.
Shamshariff said that farming was his only income.
“I fear that if my crops go bad, I will not be able to support my family over the next few months.
“We hope the government will help us make it through the next few months. We are not expecting much, just some kind of assistance to help us survive through this trying moments,” he said.
Ahimin Lasim, 45, echoed Shamshariff’s words, adding that the recent mudslide destroyed the bridge linking his village to their farm.
“Of course there is an alternative road, but it is a longer route, which means increased costs. We cannot afford to spend more now,” he said, adding that at least 115 families are affected by the problem.
Being a People’s Volunteer Corp (Rela) members, he is required to be on standby for any eventualities, particularly mudslides following the tremors and unpredictable weather lately.
“I have to leave my less than a month-old baby and three other children with my wife to care for them, while I stay at this small hut by Sungai Mesilou 2 (Kanan) to keep an eye on the water level. Thankfully we have enough food stocked up for the whole month,” said Lasim.
Work is currently on-going to set up a new trail for Mount Kinabalu, and until all is done, climbing operations are temporarily closed, affecting the livelihood of hundreds of mountain guides.
The plights have touched many hearts and help have been coming in from all over, thanks to the funds raised, collected from concerned individuals nationwide, including from abroad.
While the plight of the mountain guides are cared for, the sufferings of other affected parties, particularly resort and home-stay operators, as well as highland vegetable farmers, should not be neglected.
“We are calling on the government to also consider our plight. We are victims too and also deserve some attention,” said Dani.