Don’t glorify Sarawak’s Bakun Dam to justify a mega dam in Sabah

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The Bakun Dam in Sarawak

Save Rivers reminds the Sabah government that the Bakun Dam submerged 700 sq km of forest, farm land and villages, displacing 10,000 indigenous people.

Shafie Apdal’s recent statement that Sarawak is “reaping the benefit” from the controversial Bakun Dam is a lopsided remark.

This remark could be based on a publicity stunt by the Sarawak state government and Sarawak Energy Bhd. without taking into account the longstanding problems and complaints of the indigenous peoples affected by the project.

The Bakun Dam submerged 700 sq km of forest, farm land and villages. Some 10,000 indigenous community members from 15 villages were displaced and resettled in Sungai Asap.

In Sungai Asap, most of them are still struggling to eke out a living whereas in their original villages they had vast land for farming, hunting and foraging. In Sungai Asap each family was only given three acres of farm land. This is not enough to sustain a living, especially since much of the land is rocky, sloped and sandy. On top of that, many plots of the land are inaccessible as there were no roads and the terrain is difficult.

The government promised that the Bakun Dam would bring job opportunities, an improved standard of living and development. But these remained as empty promises.

Despite the many formal complaints and grumbling from the people, their concerns seem to go unnoticed and unheard. In a recent press conference, the state assembly members for Belaga and Murum – Liwan Lagang (who is also the Assistant Minister of Water Supply) and Kennedy Chukpai Ugon – both lamented the slow pace of development at the Belaga district even now. This is more than 20 years after the construction of the Bakun Dam, followed by the Murum Dam in 2014.

READ MORE:  Save Rivers’ Peter Kallang wins 2019 Seacology Prize

As reported in Dayak Daily on the 20th May 2019, the minister Datuk Liwan Lagang said, “We are lighting up Sarawak and yet we (those living below Bakun dam) don’t have electricity. What we want is 101 percent (coverage). Other places, like Bau, is already having 97 percent coverage of 24-hour electricity supply from the grid, while Belaga town is the only town in Sarawak not connected to the grid,”

Commenting on the Kaiduan/Papar Dam, Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang said, “In any mega project which is affecting the environment, properties and people, the free, prior and informed consent – as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples – must be seriously observed. Any social and environmental wellbeing must never be compromised by economic objectives.”

“Why should they build a mega dam when Sabah (has) recorded high amount of rainfall, (when it has) Mount Emas and the Crocker Range as natural reservoirs, supplying water to the Paper River which never runs dry,” wondered Jackly Likinsim, a local from Kampung Biusang, Papar.

“It does not make sense unless the government is trying to harvest the timber on the hills at the proposed site.”

Save Rivers is a civil society organisation which advocates for and empowers rural communities to protect and restore their land, rivers and watersheds through research, training and capacity building.

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