PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Flood victims at relief centres in Perlis, Malaysia are not just served bean sprouts and sardine for meals, said Perlis Civil Defence Force Malaysia (APM) director Lieutenant-Colonel Ishak Mohd Radzi.
Denying the allegations shared on Facebook by a woman claiming to be an evacuee at SK Bintang, Col Ishak said each meal included rice, chicken, meat and fish along with fresh ingredients.
"We will try to give them the best we can," he said when contacted by The Star newspaper on Tuesday (Sept 26).
He pointed out that various agencies including the Welfare Department, Armed Forces and volunteers from non-government organisations are involved in the distribution of food at relief centres.
Col Ishak said they would usually prepare food for up to 2,000 people at one time and staff worked round the clock to ensure there was enough food for everyone. But he said sometimes they had no choice but to serve sardine and eggs if the victims arrive unexpectedly or late at night.
In her posting, the woman wrote: "Ini adalah makanan untuk mangsa banjir, taugeh dan sardin untuk hari ni. #sedih sangat. Apa reaksi anda? (This is food for flood victims, bean sprouts with sardine for today. very sad. What is your reaction?)"
Attached with the post was a photo of packed rice with canned sardine and bean sprouts.
However, instead of getting sympathy from netizens, the woman was heavily criticised for being ungrateful.
The woman's posting had also attracted criticisms from flood victims in other states including evacuees of one of the worst floods in Johor a decade ago.
Perlis Welfare Department director Mohammad Hazam Ismail said they understood and empathised with all the flood victims.
"We also met with the woman who posted the complaint and we have settled it amicably," he said.
Mr Mohammad Hazam clarified that on Sunday, they had prepared food for 2,000 flood evacuees in the state but had a last-minute request for more food for another 500 victims.
"We prepared 2,500 packs of rice with fish curry but we realised that it wasn't enough. That is why we used sardine as we had no choice and due to time constraints we had to make sure all evacuees got their lunch," he said.
"Only 20 per cent of the evacuees were served rice with canned sardines while the rest were served fish. In fact for dinner, they were served chicken."
Mr Mohammad Hazam added that evacuees were also given other food such as biscuits and instant noodles.
He added that food was also prepared and distributed to victims who were not staying at the centres.
"We cannot force people to come to the relief centres. There are some who choose to stay by the road and only return to their homes at night as their homes were not completely submerged under water," he said.
Kembara Kitchen founder William Cheah said from their experience, even preparing the simplest of food for a huge number of people during an emergency was no easy task.
"Think sardines aren't good enough? Try opening hundreds of cans of sardines on your own. See if your tangan patah (hands break) or not. Or even cooking rice," said Mr Cheah in an interview. "Ever washed hundreds of kilos of rice with a trickling tap of water?"
Mr Cheah said even the simple task of washing pots or utensils was not easy.
He added that a major problem faced by relief teams while preparing food was the lack of volunteers.
"The hands which are readily available are only waiting for food to be served at the halls and tents," he said.
Mr Cheah said victims who could help peel onions or wash rice for some reason refused to do so.
"They have nowhere to go and nothing to do except to grumble and complain that the food isn't yummy enough or slow in coming," said Mr Cheah.
Meanwhile, checks showed that the woman who posted about her bean sprouts and sardine meal has since deactivated her Facebook account.