CONNECTING more than 5,000 scattered villages in the state is one of Sarawak’s greatest challenges.
Not only are these villages scattered, most of them are still hard to reach even in this millennia, some are reachable only by river or from the sea.
Following this challenge, one of the efforts taken to bring connectivity to these areas is through the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score) initiative, a push to industrialise the state’s economy.
Despite it being only seven years old, Samalaju Industrial Park, located in the heart of Score, has attracted more than RM30 billion worth of investment.
And in Samalaju alone, 15 major corporations, including multi-nationals, have invested close to RM30 billion.
Despite all the foreign and domestic investors pumping their investment here, the development in Score also indirectly brings development to its surrounding areas.
One of the most obvious transformation includes the once sleepy town of Bintulu.
The rapid development in Samalaju has intensified infrastructure development in the area, resulting in an under-supply of houses.
“Rents have increased over the years. When I first arrived in this town for work, my rent was only RM800, Now I have to fork out almost RM1,500 for a small house a little bit far from town.
“In town, some of the rents for rooms have also increased. The reason behind this is too many people but not enough houses,” said 30-year-old oil and gas technician James Buma.
Though the old Bintulu town may seem run down, this oil and gas city has rapidly changed with the influx of workers.
Currently, the construction of Samalaju new township is under way, but that also may not be enough to cater to the increasing development in that particular area.
State’s Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Awang Tengah Ali Hassan said pioneer investors in Score were churning out a number of manufactured goods for export.
Manufactured shipments have expanded by 57% from RM4.79 billion in 2009 to RM7.5 billion in 2014.
“Just in the first 10 months of 2014, exports of manufactured goods totalled RM6.87 billion,” said Awang Tengah at the launch of the Second Business and Investment Summit recently.
Score focuses on five growth areas in the state, namely Tanjung Manis, Samalaju, Mukah, Baram and Tunoh, covering industries such as tourism, oil and gas, aluminium, fishing, aquaculture, livestock, forestry, ship building and palm oil.
Having an energy potential of 28,000MW, with 70% reliance on hydropower, 20% coal and 5% biofuel allows the state to provide competitive prices to encourage strong industrial development in the corridor.
And in just seven years of Score, Sarawak’s GDP has soared in the past two decades and now contributes 10% to the national GDP.
Score’s rapid progress also brings connectivity to some of the rural areas. Though many more are yet to be connected, the changes seen in only seven years is a major accomplishment.
A recent survey conducted by the State Infrastructure Development Ministry concluded that it would need close to RM20 billion to provide connectivity to the scattered villages here.
Ministry permanent secretary Safri Zainuddin said one of the steps taken was to upgrade 250km of old logging roads, to be connected to the main grid.
“By doing this, we can provide accessibility to 31,512 people in under-served rural areas to the urban cities,” said Safri.
Sarawak has a population of 2.6 million, where many are still living scattered on a land mass equivalent to the whole peninsula.
Of course, relocating the rural residents would be the easiest thing to do to solve the connectivity problem here, as some might say, but if an urban family is forced to relocate to pave way for a new development, even they will resist the idea.
And that is why roads are very much needed in Sarawak as they will pave way to other basic infrastructures like water and electricity.