Hornbill Unleashed

February 16, 2012

New coalition, Save Sarawak’s Rivers, to battle dams

Filed under: Corruption,Dams — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Joseph Tawie

With the impending construction of multiple dams in Sarawak, there is an urgent need to coordinate efforts by natives and NGOs opposing these structures.

MIRI: Concerned individuals and a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are gathering in Miri next week to discuss the formation of a ‘Save Sarawak’s Rivers’ network.

The network aims to coordinate a campaign at state, national and international levels against the construction of mega dams in Sarawak.

The idea to form the network, simply called ‘Save Rivers’, was made in October last year.

Save Rivers’ steering committee chairman, Peter Kallang said there was an urgent need to coordinate activities by the natives and civil societies.

“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.

“Having this in mind a group of us, concerned individuals and a few of NGOs have decided to start a network of those who are against the mega-dams.

“We aim at extending the network further to include more of those who can support the cause, especially from among those who are directly affected,” said Kallang, who is also the chairman of Kenyah and the Miri and Orang Ulu national associations.

Kallang said primary objective is to gather all affected communities and individuals or NGOs to work together as a team and to build up network for easy communication and to collectively gather and relay information.

Save Rivers is to share or disseminate information concerning the destructive nature and adverse effects of mega-dams and to support activities or events opposing the construction of mega-dams.

Anxiety over dams

He said the group last year started with the campaign from a booth set up in Marudi during the Baram Regatta. This was closely followed with a dinner organised in Miri for fellowship and to create awareness.

On their three-day conference beginning on Feb 16, Kallang said that eight speakers will present papers at the conference.

All of them are knowledgeable individuals and include university professors, environmentalists and speakers from human right groups including Suhakam, the government institutes, and Malaysian Human Right organisations.

Kallang said that the conference will come with resolutions which will spell the course of action to be initiated for stopping the construction of mega-dams.

“The construction of dams inevitably raises a lot of justifiable anxiety, some of which are the environmental concerns relating to them which include the destruction of numerous endemic plants and animal’s species.

“In constructing the dams, there is a definite, unavoidable and massive ecological damage resulting from the deforestation and flooding of thousands of square kilometres of natural tropical rainforest.

“The threat from the dams collapsing is also very real, since upstream sedimentation could shorten the useful lifespan of the dam.

“Another trade off is the health issues, such as increase in diseases like shistosomiasis and malaria which are real.

“The viability of large dams is also nowadays increasingly called into question in light of climate change, which undermines the water supply to the large dams,” he said.

NCR issue

Kalang said that at the moment, one of the problematic issues between the Sarawak government and the natives is the interpretation of the law concerning the Native Customary Right (NCR) land.

“The government’s interpretation of what NCR is, does not comply with the natives’ customs.

“But the natives’ customs were recognized by the Sarawak’s government under British colony and the Sarawak’s Rajah government which governed before the British and that law is still binding.

“In spite of losing cases after cases of land disputes resulting from this interpretation, the present Sarawak state government continues to lease out the land which are claimed by the natives to various big plantation developers, claiming that the land belongs to the state.

“As a result there are hundreds of court cases resulting from land claims; a lot of them are still not resolved. The proposed construction of these dams will no doubt exacerbate the situation,” he said.

Kallang said that in the case for the people who were relocated to make way for the Bakun dam, they were given three acres of land per family, as part of the compensation.

“In their case it brought change from bad to worst. Rather than an improvement to the standard of living for the people, when at one time they were able to cultivate, plant, harvest, gather, hunt, fish freely in their vast NCR which is recognized by the Malaysian court, now they have a piece of land which is just a negligible size compared to their former land.

“So after the relocation they could not maintain the same way of life since the three acres of land is inadequate and insufficient for economic purpose, to cultivate even as subsistent farmers in the rural areas.

“Due to these reasons there is a large migration to towns and plantations where a lot of them end up as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers.

“In view of these facts I would say that 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 the community at large,” he said.

Dams will destroy rivers

He said that 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.

“Sustainable development should not result in negative environment impact or major and harmful irreversible bad consequences.

“Sarawak needs development and I believe that the people in the rural areas all want to have better living standard but building mega-dams will destroy the rivers and submerge the very land which the people need for development.

“When looking at the available power generated after Bakun dam and Murum dams are fully on line building more mega-dams will not benefit the general population of Sarawak or Malaysia as a whole,” he said.

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