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Vivian Wong, the Member of Parliament for the port town of Sandakan

Vivian Wong, the Member of Parliament for the port town of Sandakan

Kuala Lumpur,

Vivian Wong, the Member of Parliament for the port town of Sandakan, Sabah, has received many calls for help this year. In particular, there were mothers who could not afford to feed their babies.

So she approached a non-governmental organisation called Future Alam Borneo. Through crowdfunding, they managed to raise about RM15,000 (S$4,900) to buy 400 packs of infant formula. “With the pandemic that’s going on, Sabah is definitely facing a big challenge compared to the past years — a bigger challenge,” says the 31-year-old.

It is the poorest state in Malaysia, faced with inadequate infrastructure, low education levels and a high cost of living for rural folk with stagnant salaries. With a poverty rate of 19.5 per cent based on the 2019 poverty line, Sabah has almost 100,000 households forming some of the country’s poorest communities.

And now, years of effort to decrease poverty to this level have gone out the window following the arrival of COVID-19. Just this week, Sabah came under a conditional movement control order (MCO) again. All across the country too, there are stories of hardship as many households struggle to stay afloat because of the pandemic.

According to opinion research firm Merdeka Centre, five to eight per cent of Malaysia’s population will fall into poverty. That is about 1.5 to 2.4 million citizens in addition to the 405,000 households already living below the poverty line.

As the coronavirus crisis drives up poverty levels in Asia for the first time since the 1990s, the programme Insight asks whether vulnerable Malaysians can cope and survive the challenges (aknes/henri/pn)


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