Mega dams obsolete and destructive, says Sarawak group

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File diagram: Possible hydro projects in Sarawak

The decision by the Sarawak government to go ahead with mega-dams projects in approving the Baleh dam is appalling, says Save Rivers.

Mega dams are obsolete and destructive. That is why thousands of dams are being dismantled in developed countries which recognise those ugly facts.

Mega dams are removed because their negative effects far outweigh the fictional benefits. That is why even in the United State of America, which is one of the world’s largest economies, dams are continually being removed.

So, between 1912 and 2015, there have been 1,300 (yes, one thousand three hundred) dams which have been removed in the USA alone. The next dam removal in the country will be done at the 236-mile Klamath River, where four dams will be dismantled.

While several developed countries are removing their dams, Sarawak seems to be completely oblivious to sane options and alternative energy sources and stubbornly pursues a venture which will have a multitude of negative impacts.

In a video interview with the Borneo Project and commenting on the move to build mega dams, Dr Atif Ansar, working in public policy and management at the University of Oxford, said, “Countries would be better off without them.”

Based on a study by Professor Daniel Kammen and Dr Rebekah Shirley from the University of California Berkley, Sarawak can meet its power requirement without mega dams. The recommendation by the study is for a cleaner, economical and more people-centred approach as in small-scale micro hydro, solar power and biomass.

Commenting on the study in an interview with Mongobay about the proposed mega dams in Sarawak, Kammen said, “In perhaps the most key finding, we have found that this clean energy mixture can even meet the aggressive 7-8 per cent growth per year scenarios that have been used to argue for the need for mega dams.”

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While alternative energy sources as recommended by the study carried out by Professor Kammen and Dr Shirley are more focused on people, mega dams largely benefit corporations and big business owners. This can be seen even in the cases of the existing dams in Sarawak where the people affected are as poor and underprivileged as ever or worse off than before the existence of those dams.

If the government cares for the long-term benefits to the economy, environment and above all the people of Sarawak, this obsession with mega dams must be stopped. Sarawak must start investing in alternative energy.

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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