Save Rivers’ Peter Kallang wins 2019 Seacology Prize

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File photo: The Save Rivers group has been active. From left: Peter Kallang (Save Rivers chairperson), Abun Sui (Gasak president), Philip Jau (BPAC chairperson), and Khamsul (Forestry Department in Miri) receiving a memorandum

In the fight against the Baram Dam, we were aware that we were up against a formidable adversary, says Peter Kallang.

I am deeply touched at being selected as the recipient of this distinguished award, the Seacology* Prize 2019.

I am humbled by the very thought of it. This is in recognition of our success for stopping the Baram Dam and the government’s decision to stop all mega dams. In short it was teamwork at its best.

I would say that there were three main factors which brought about this success.

  1. We all know that this success was possible with the contribution of so many who love our Sarawak people, our unique culture, the environment, land, rivers, flora and fauna. Those who struggled with us were from various places in Sarawak, other states in Malaysia and overseas. There were so many individuals involved. To get the support and cooperation of all those villagers and supporters, it was mainly following the guideline of free, prior and informed consent as stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  2. The success is also attributed to the many NGOs or civil society organisations (CSOs) working together. In fact, Save Rivers was started as a network of eight local CSOs including non-governmental individuals. With the resources available from those organisations, Save Rivers was able to start functioning actively the instant it was formed. This experience shows the important role played by NGOs, CSOs and nongovernmental individuals. We are an important component of a working democracy. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, our fifth Prime Minister, was one of those government leaders who openly claimed that he was willing to listen to NGOs and CSOs. He once said: “NGOs must act as the eyes and ears of the government” and “Civil groups should speak up and point out the weaknesses of the government in a constructive manner.”
  3. In Sarawak, we had one chief minister who was also willing to listen to CSOs, NGOs and the ordinary people. He was the late Adenan Satem. After our request, he invited Save Rivers and friends to have a private meeting with him. At the end of that meeting, he said to us, “I will listen to you just as I have been listening to the proponents of the dam.” So when we decided to fight against the Baram Dam, we were aware that we were up against a formidable adversary, which was the government and some of our own people.
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However, we continued the struggle despite those obvious odds. So we are so grateful for the surprising success. I am reminded of the verse which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Thank you very much for all the congratulatory messages which I have been receiving from old and new friends. Remember that this is an acknowledgement of our success together.

*Seacology is a nonprofit based in California whose mission is to work with islanders around the world to protect threatened ecosystems and help their local communities.

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