Orang Asli Batek village in Kuala Koh. (NSTP/SYAMSI SUHAIMI)

IF you think the clock in Gua Musang has more ticks and tocks than timepieces elsewhere, you are right. Welcome to the world of slow-mo investigation.

There have been 14 deaths in the 2,000-strong Batek community here, but there is more amble than rush to establish the cause of the deaths.

To be fair to the authorities, the deaths were not reported to the police, for reasons best known to the Batek community.

But still, the deaths were in May and now we are three days away from mid-June. All we are told is that there are missing bodies and some such mysteries.

This is unfortunate. Crisis cannot be handled this way. And what is happening to the Batek community cannot be anything but a crisis.

The longer the silence, the greater the speculation. The public will not know what is being done, a recipe for panic and anger at best. Also, the authorities will be viewed as inept or negligent.

This is a formula for reputation to head downwards. The government has handled crises before. It should know what to do by now.

The Kelantan government is of no help either. Instead of issuing a moratorium on mining and logging, as Orang Asli activists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have called for, it is on a defensive path.

No less than Deputy Menteri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said the deaths were due to pneumonia and not some waterborne disease.

The fact is, the cause of deaths, at least for the 12 missing victims, is still unknown. Under such circumstances — where the cause of death is yet to be determined — the right thing to do is to freeze activities that are potential causes.

Logging and mining are surely two of them. Until they are ruled out by deeper analysis.

Diving deep would help answer questions raised by NGOs. One such question is: why is a mine that was ordered to stop work in 2017 still in operation? Another is: are chemical run-offs really contaminating water sources? If these aren’t fair questions, they must be nipped in the bud.

If not, they will not only get louder, but will also cloud the already muddied waters. Kelantan must be magnanimous, too. Homes of the Batek are fast disappearing because of economic activities — some of them illegal.

Their livelihood is threatened. And so is their health. The right thing for Kelantan to do is to resettle them to safety while the threats continue. After all, there are only 2,000 of them.

We are all for capitalism in Kelantan, but let it be a type that is compassionate.

There are lessons here for all of us. One is that time is of the essence in a crisis such as this.

More rush than amble would be our advice to the authorities. Reputation is destroyed in hours, if not minutes. Another is that life in whatever hue — Batek or otherwise — is a God-given gift. Treat it that way.

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