The town that goes to 'sleep' at noon

By Nancy Nais
Source: Facebook

LUBOK Antu is a typical small town in rural Sarawak. Located on the banks of the Batang Ai river, it has only two rows of old wooden shops, a hotel, a market and a sports centre.

It comes under the Batang Ai state constituency. This seat and the Engkilili state constituency make up the Lubok Antu parliamentary seat.

The town, which is about 300km from Kuching, however, does not have a bank. The local folks pay their bills at the post office or go all the way to Sri Aman, about an hour-and-a-half drive away.

There are seven rural clinics and two health clinics within the Lubok Antu district which covers 1,341 sq km.

The district has a population of 22,234 with the majority being Ibans, who make up 95 per cent while the others are Chinese, Malays and Bidayuh.

There are 238 longhouses, a church, a Chinese temple and a mosque in the district.

The town generally comes alive in the morning when the market is in full swing and people come to buy all kinds of produce, especially the famous red tilapia fish found in the Batang Ai river.

By lunch time, the market is shut, and the traders return to their longhouses and there is hardly a soul to be seen.

Although Batang Ai has a hydro-electric dam that supplies electricity to Kuching and Sibu, many villages and longhouses that dot the area from the dam to the main bazaar of Lubok Antu have no electricity supply.

Thousands of residents still rely on diesel-powered generators, even as the power transmission lines from the dam, commissioned 25 years ago, run above their wooden dwellings.

Enormous oil palm estates mark the landscape, and yet the people are mostly poor, with an average income of RM650 per month per family.

The main economic activities are padi and oil palm cultivation, with no sign of the mega-industries that hydro-dams usually attract.

Over the past few days, Lubok Antu has been thrust into the spotlight, thanks to the Batang Ai by-election to be held on April 7.

As the only town in the constituency, it is now swarmed with folk from all over the state and more than 800 policemen.

Under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, several major projects are being implemented and completed in Sri Aman Division, including the Lubok Antu district.

Now Lubok Antu town has a sports complex and a proper bridge over the river.

Two ongoing projects, estimated to cost RM70 million, are the Lubok Antu district police headquarters and the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine checkpoint.

Work on the district police headquarters, costing about RM59 million, began last January and as at March 20, 72 per cent of the work has been completed.

With the new headquarters, Lubok Antu district police chief DSP George Merejok is hoping to get 22 more personnel. He said currently Lubok Antu had 62 policemen.

Meanwhile, the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine checkpoint, costing about RM11 million, will link Lubok Antu to Badau, on the West Kalimantan border.

It is expected to be ready in March next year.