Indigenous peoples of Sarawak fighting Malaysian plan to build 12 mega-dams

By Ahni, Intercontinental Cry

It’s no mere coincidence that Sarawak is one of the most impoverished states in Malaysia. For more than 30 years the governments of Malaysia and Sarawak have been far too busy ransacking the region’s precious rainforest to secure and strengthen what has been there for thousands of years.

That’s because development in Sarawak has always been about making money; and as any real capitalist knows, the more money you have to spread around, the less you have for your self and your friends and family.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud knows this well. After all, Minster Taib, whose name is now synonymous with corruption, has made a big part of his fortune at the expense of the land and people of Sarawak.

The decimation of Sarawak continues even as you read these words; and if Minster Taib gets his way, it will only get worse in the months and years ahead.

The government of Sarawak is going all out for a new mass-industrialization project known as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) initiative. Under SCORE, the government intends to build at least twelve new hydro dams in Sarawak in order to provide 28,000 MW of electricity for a yet-to-be-determined industrial complex in Sarawak.

Describing the risks of SCORE, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) says,

“The ecological consequences of the new dams would be disastrous. River and forest landscapes which exist nowhere else in the world apart from Borneo would be destroyed for ever, and the animal and plant world would be threatened. Apart from that, dams cause the emission of large quantities of greenhouse gases, which fuel climate change even further.”

A Switzerland-based NGO, the Bruno Manser Fund is leading a campaigning against the SCORE initiative in coordination with a coalition of NGOs from around the world.

The social and cultural consequences of SCORE would be equally disastrous, says BMF. For instance, just one of the proposed dams–the 1000 MW Baram dam–would drown approximately 412 km2 (41200 hectares) of rainforest and 26 indigenous villages along with it. That will result in the displacement of up to 20,000 people.

Speaking to the future, Peter L., a Kenyah whose village would be lost to the Baram dam, compares the Chief Minister’s plan to “A tsunami created by human beings” that will “pick up speed and destroy everything: rivers, forest, harvest, villages, simply everything!”

“It is, however, not only the forest and fields as the lifeblood of Baram culture that are threatened,” reiterates BMF campaigner Annina Aeberli, in the NGO’s 2012 newsletter, Tong Tana. “The indigenous peoples of the Baram region are also lamenting the loss of their history and their social cohesion, which it defined strongly through their ancestors.”

As Maria, another Kenyah from Long Anap said to BMF, “Those of us alive today can at least run away when the water comes, but what are the dead going to do?” Thomas M., retired secondary teacher from the village of Long San, echoes Maria’s concerns. With tears in his eyes, he said, “my father died in 2002. I won’t let it happen that they flood his grave, so that my father dies a second time. I’m going to fight against the dam.”

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3 thoughts on “Indigenous peoples of Sarawak fighting Malaysian plan to build 12 mega-dams”

  1. Interesting article about development induced displacement and resettlement

    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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