Activists form alliance to stop dam-building on Borneo

Image by David Tryse

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

Last October indigenous groups, local people, and domestic NGOs formed the Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network to fight the planned construction of a dozen dams in the Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The coalition opposes the dam-building plans, known as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) initiative, due to its impacts on indigenous and river communities, the destruction of pristine rainforest, and the degradation of the state’s rivers.

“At the moment, there is no coordinated effort by the indigenous communities and civil societies to campaign against the construction of these destructive mega-dam projects. Therefore there is an urgent need to initiate a state, national and international campaign against these mega-dams,” Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network’s chairperson, Peter Kallang, said in a press conference this week as reported by Free Malaysia Today. He noted that of paramount importance was to reach out to those directly impacted by the dams.

Five foreign NGOs from the U.S. and EU have also announced support of the nascent coalition, including The Bruno Manser Fund, International Rivers, Borneo Project, Rainforest Action Network (US) and the Rainforest Foundation Norway.After long delays and cost overruns, one of the dozen dams has already been completed, the 2,400 megawatt Bakun dam. The dam displaced around 10,000 indigenous people and flooded 70,000 hectares of rainforest.

While the Sarawak government has argued that the dams are needed to power the state, the Bakun dam alone produces more than double the power used by Sarawak at peak times. The additional power is likely to go to a planned aluminum smelter run by Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) and Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. Another dam, the 900 megawatt Murum dam, is currently under construction.

“The construction of the dams will not bring development to the people directly affected but it does bring severe and permanent damages to the whole environment and to the community at large,” Kallang said. “Development for the people must be for the immediate and above all, long term good of all the people and not just a few, who own shares in power generation and big corporations.”

Proponents of dam building have argued that they are “green” energy sources. However dams built in the tropics have been shown to release massive amounts of the methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, due to rotting vegetation trapped in the reservoir. A study last year found that a dam in Laos was still a significant source of greenhouse gases a decade after being built, emitting between 1.2 and 3.2 gigagrams of carbon annually. Another dam, however, was no longer a source of emissions after 40 years.

Save Sarawak Rivers will be holding a conference this week in Miri, including the presentation of papers by eight key speakers.

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Categories: Dams, Indigenous People, Resistance, Rivers

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One Comment on “Activists form alliance to stop dam-building on Borneo”

  1. Jennifer Doherty
    March 24, 2012 at 5:06 am #

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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