Thursday, March 11, 2010

Long Banga - the hard facts


Long Banga appeared in tonight's Malaysian RTM1 panorama's program featuring the Maswings' twin otter planes flying destinations. As one of the few destinations for the 19 seater aircraft in the interior Baram, Long Banga village as well as the neighbouring Long Peluan, Long Lamai and Long Beruang benefited very much from this subsidized flights.

Before 1996, logging operations did not reach this part of the world and there is no other mode of transportation other than walking on foot to Lio Mato, which normally take two days for an average person, with an overnite in a jungle hut at Metapa.

From Lio Mato, a long boat ride to Marudi will take another two days with an approximate 2 drums of benzine for a twin 30 hp outboat motors. The returning journey normally takes 3 days upriver to Lio Mato with 3 drums of fuel. The cost is quite substantial, therefore only the rich guy in the village can keep those engines and boats at Lio Mato which will only be used once or twice a year. The trip is planned in such a way that more that 10 persons will travel downriver to share the cost of the fuel.

Then the government decided to open up an airport at Long Banga in early 1990s.. the original plan was abandoned because the flight landing direction is a bit tricky with mountains at both ends. The current completed ones is an extention or rather an improvement of the army's field used to land items from the Caribou 130 during the confrontation with Indonesia in 1960s and also the BEM missions therafter. Before MAS rural service commence (latter FAX and now Maswings) in early 2000, the completed airport was used by chartered flights. A Dornier or Skyvan is normally hired at a rate of RM5,000.00 for a return flight to Marudi, whereby the local trader fill the aircraft to the brink and any space left is for paying passenger. This only happens about 3 to 4 times per year and normally the teachers and nurses posted to the villages in the vicinity make the trips.

In early 1997 the quiet village is surprised by the arrival of logging operations. But the villages adapted fast to the changes and started to travel by logging roads to Miri for about 8-10 hours, depending on weather conditions. This has largely changed the livelihood in Long Banga. No more walking on foot for days excepting between local villages. Besides, trading items are not flown anymore, but by land trips that will cost around RM700-800 per chartered 4WD double cabin trucks (land cruisers). Anyway, that did not reduce the prices of goods at Long Banga estimated at Coca Cola RM3.00, Maggie Mee RM1.00, Tiger Beer RM6.00, Derek drinking water (small botlle) RM2.00..

When I went back in February 2010, a lot of physical changes happened. More houses are built by the younger generations with better design and added with the availability of cements that can be brought by land from Miri, makes better houses. A new church is built by the Kenyah's section of the village.

But still, travel by air is a blessing for the populace. Small in number though, the current three flights per week (Tue, Sat and Sun) well serves the people living and working there, very much. The government servants (teachers and rural clinic staffers) really need this service as most are outsiders, and fancy of checking their 'gaji' monthly at Miri or Marudi. With a one way subsidized flight costing about RM80.00 to Miri, there is very little complaints from the villagers.. they are often self-reminded of their yesteryear's hardship...
To fascilitate internal movements, the government has teamed-up with the timber company operationg in the area to upgrade the kampung road and built a new bridge crossing the main river to school.