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After 60 Years, Tap Water in Some Homes on Gaya Island

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Ayu Damsal, 38, used to fork out RM400 a month to ensure a steady supply of water to her home. She also constantly reminded her seven children not to waste any of it.

But things are now looking up. Clean and treated water will finally run through the taps in her house in Kampung Kasuapan, Gaya Island, where her family has lived for 60 years.

Water supply used to take up a large chunk of Ayu’s monthly income of barely RM1,200 a month, she said.

“Sometimes I would beat my children as they like to play with the water I stored up in the tank when bathing. So we had to be very, very thrifty with how we use the water,” said Ayu, a fourth-generation islander who now runs a sundry shop.

She used to earn only around RM500 a month from waiting on tables and washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant in mainland Kota Kinabalu, a five-minute boat ride away. Her husband, a construction worker, only earns around RM600 a month.

Her family of nine lives together with her mother, five siblings and their spouses and children in the wooden home built by her grandfather some 60 years ago.

She said it would be a dream come true for many Gaya Island villagers when treated water starts running through the taps in their homes.

The state government has decided to introduce a prepaid water supply system, which is expected to begin next year.

It has been a long wait for the islanders.

“The previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government promised us clean water supply before the general election in 2008,” said Ayu. “They won the election, but no water supply came, not until Warisan took over the state government last year.”

Gaya Island is part of the Tanjung Aru state constituency under the Putatan parliamentary seat, held by the Pakatan Harapan-Warisan alliance.

In 2008, the Putatan MP, then Marcus Mojigoh of BN, promised water supply to their homes before the election was held. It was only in 2011, when Shafie Apdal was federal minister for rural development in the BN government, that underwater pipes were laid from Likas to the island.

The whole project was completed in 2015, but it took another general election before water would run to the houses on Gaya Island.

There was no explanation why houses lacked water supply but a nearby resort, the police station and schools received tapped water.

The Gaya Island water supply controversy was one of the cases that led to Shafie being detained by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission before the general election last year.

On Sept 3, Sabah Water Department director Amarjit Singh announced a prepaid system for water supply, which will initially reach only Kampung Kasuapan and Kampung Gaya Asli.

Gaya Island villages have long been viewed as a slum and a hotbed for crimes, drugs and smuggling activities but many of its residents are a major source of the Kota Kinabalu manpower supply.

The population of about 10,000 is spread out among several villages, namely Kampung Kasuapan, Kampung Gaya Asli, Kampung Lok Urai, Kampung Pondo and Kampung Lobong.

Many of the residents are fishermen or work as construction workers, restaurant workers and odd job workers around Kota Kinabalu city.

Construction worker Rudi Salih, 31, said pipelines were laid across the village in 2014 but no water ran through them. A reservoir tank was built on top of a hill that year, but it was never connected to the houses either.

“So many residents had to rely on water supply sold to them by vendors from the mainland. Filling up a large blue tank would cost us around RM42 and last for a week at most, at some houses only three days depending on the size of the family,” said Rudi.

He said it was only last year that water supply ran through the pipes and was sold to villagers at a cheaper price.

Rudi said now, he only pays around RM12 to fill up the large blue 200-litre tank.

He hopes the price will drop when the prepaid water supply system is implemented in Kampung Kasuapan.

“I was told that the price will go down to around RM7 to fill up the blue tank. This means we could save more money and certainly improve our livelihoods,” he said.

Another villager who only wanted to be known as Mohd Sham Otong, 42, said not all of the residents are being supplied with the water.

“We are expecting the new system to start next year. At this point, however, I am already glad that after decades without proper supply, we will find the supply more consistent and cheaper,” he said.

According to Otong, he will save an extra RM200 when the new system is implemented. He will also be able to extend his fruit business in town.

“Maybe I can get a new wheelbarrow so I can load more durians on my trips to source for fruit supplies in Tamparuli. Or maybe I can spend more around the house,” said the father of three.

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