Long Lawen – a story of self-determined development

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Image: Save Rivers

Representatives of the Baram Conservation Initiative visited Long Lawen to learn from a community that has chosen its own kind of deelopment, reports Save Rivers.

Belaga/Baram/Miri – In pursuit of an alternative development model for the Baram Conservation Initiative, a delegation of Penan and Kenyah visited Long Lawen, Belaga.

The Baram representatives wanted to learn from the experiences of the Kenyah Badeng of Long Lawen. Originally from Long Gang, this group of Kenyah not only resisted the government’s Bakun resettlement scheme to Sungai Asap, but also built a community-managed micro-hydro project after they resettled in Long Lawen in 1998.

Gara Jalong, headman of Long Lawen, was proud to explain to the visitors that Long Lawen’s micro-hydro project is a major success story as it has been running without major disruption since its operation in 2002.

A key feature that contributed to its success is the participation of the community in the installation and operation of the micro-hydro. Villagers are charged a nominal utility fee, which is then used to pay a villager to maintain the system.

Another good thing about the micro-hydro system, Jalong remarked, is that it requires minimal technical knowledge, which means it can be easily replicated in other rural settings.

“Microhydro is a model that we can follow. This is what we want. We want the government to bring this type of development to us,” says Panai Irang, headman of Ba Abang, a Penan village in Middle Baram that would have been submerged by the impoundment of the now cancelled Baram dam project.

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The visitors also learnt that this group of Kenyah were happy with their decision to resettle at their ancestral land in Long Lawen, Sungai Tekulang instead of the Bakun resettlement scheme at Sungai Asap.

Jalong said the main reason to resettle there was that the community wanted to secure and defend their ancestral lands. The Long Lawen community also felt that they would not have been able to afford to live in Sungai Asap given the higher cost of living.

James Nyurang, a Kenyah of Lepo Ga, Tanjung Tepalit, says that “Mega dams are not the type of development we indigenous people want. We want to stay on our ancestral lands, and alternative energy schemes like micro-hydro provide the development that we need in our communities, without the destruction of our environment and culture.”

The Baram delegation was deeply inspired by Long Lawen and urges the government to pursue development that is community-centred. “The people have the rights to choose what kind of development that they want and the free, prior, and informed consent has to be respected,” adds Peter Kallang, chairman of Save Rivers.

The Baram Conservation Initiative is a community-driven effort that intends to protect the rainforest, establish sustainable livelihood systems, and prevent the expansion of large-scale commercial agriculture and extractive industries in the region.

Save Rivers is a grassroots network of indigenous communities and civil society organisations in Sarawak, working to protect human rights and stop destructive dams in the state.

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