Eight villages from the Baram district have protested against the proposal to build mega dams in the district, reports Mark Bujang.
In written and signed statement by the villagers, they want the dam project to be cancelled immediately. The letters were submitted to the Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) here in Miri, and SAVE Rivers has forwarded the letters to Thorstein Dale Sjotveit, CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad, the owner of the proposed Baram Dam.
Copies of the letters were also sent to Prime Minister Najib Razak, Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, the Suhakam chairman, Baram MP Jacob Dungau Sagan, and Telang Usan State Assembly member Dennis Ngau. Copies of the letters and the signatures were also sent to consultants carrying studies for the dam construction i.e. MWH Global Headquarters in the United States and Entura Australia.
The protest letters were received from Long Lutin, Ba’ Pakan, Ba’ Abang, Long Kawi, Long Item, Long Lilim, Long Liam and Long Selawan.
There were more than 650 signatories for the eight letters from the eight long-houses. In the letters the villagers said that they do not want the dams to be built. They requested that the government find an alternative approach for development which will not deprive the people of their existing land and properties including their village houses, orchards, gardens, cash crops and land.
Swan Ngok from Long Lilim in a recorded interview said, “If we are being relocated to other places, we will have a lot of problem with land where we can earn our living.
“Even at our existing places, we are having difficulties with regard to land and our traditional jungle products and cash crops.
“If the government wants to bring development for us, please give development that is good for us and those which we ask for,” said Swan Ngok.
The messages to the government and the proponent of the proposed Baram Dam, in the letters and electronically recorded forms, are unequivocally against the proposed dam.
The audio and video messages by various villagers from the area were recorded in various languages, namely in English, Malay, Kenyah, Kayan and Penan. Some of the messages are already uploaded on the internet on Youtube or the SAVE Rivers Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAVE-Rivers/376175715744786) and the SAVE Rivers blog.
Commenting on the letters and the electronically recorded messages, the chairman of the SAVE Rivers Network, Peter Kallang said, “The response from the communities in the Baram area is very clear, that is they do not want the dam to be built. They know the impact that the dam will have on their lives. It is time for the government to take heed of their pleas.
“If development is for the people, the priority must be the well being of the people and they must be well informed as required by recognised international requirements and their freely given consent should be obtained after that. There should never be any forced relocation of the population. However, from our visits to the Baram, we can see that most of the people are well aware of the negative impact of the dam on them. They are aware of what happened to those relocated to Sungai Asap … to give way to the Bakun dam and those in Batang Ai as a result of the dam there,” said Peter.
Peter added, “The role of NGOs is to protect the well being of people and the environment; so it essentially involves telling the whole truth, without withholding anything. Therefore any suggestion to ‘neutralise the negative issue’ would basically hide the truth from the people or lie to the people.
“In any case, it is most encouraging to note that the people we visited on our road shows, welcomed us and are grateful for the information we gave them. They understand that we as NGOs are focusing on people and the environment because real NGOs are apolitical; since we are for the people and the campaigns are on issues, we are not there to win any election or for pursuing any timber concession or things like that. We have no hidden agendas but to give open support for the greater and overall good. So I would like to invite all our leaders, particularly our political leaders, to help our people by stopping the proposed Baram Dam.”
Mark Bujang is secretary of SAVE Rivers