Ethnic communities in Sarawak are hardening themselves to oppose the further construction of hydro-electric power (HEP) dams in the state after witnessing the miserable conditions that those moved out for the Bakun and Murum dams live in.
Recently, 175 people from the Kenyah, Kayan, Penan and other ethnic communities visited the Bakum Dam resettlement area at Sungai Asap and the Murum Dam resettlement at Tegulang and were shocked by deplorable conditions there.
The broken promises made to the communities resettled there has further hardened their anti-dam fight, Save Rivers Network Sarawak (Save Rivers) chairperson Peter Kallang said today.
The two-day visit from July 13, organised by Save Rivers, was to enable those from the Baram Dam development area to see for themselves the resettlement areas and listen to the experiences of those forced to make way for the two HEP dams at Bakun and Murum, Peter said.
More such visits would be organised in the future in order to enlighten the Baram natives on the impact of the dams on their lives, especially with the government deciding to start on the Baram Dam after the completion of the Murum Dam, he said.
Once completed, the Baram Dam will displace some 20,000 people and submerge 26 longhouses and villages. Those affected are to be relocated at a new township to be built, called “Bandar Baru Baram”.
Sarawak to build 12 more HEP dams
All in all, the Sarawak government and state-owned Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) plan to build 12 more HEP dams, including the Baram Dam.
Peter (right) said: “The proposal to build the Baram HEP dam has met with a lot of resistance on the ground but some politicians and SEB are working hard to promote the dam in various ways, including making attractive promises.
“To verify the truth of the promises by the dam proponents, the Baram folk went to the resettlement areas of Sungai Asap (set up in 1998 to make way for Bakun Dam) and Tegulang (opened in 2013 to make way for the Murum Dam).
“It was a fact-finding mission for the Baram folk. The indigenous men and women in the group came from 17 villages in the district that would be flooded by the proposed Baram One dam.
“What they found out really shocked them, especially the deplorable conditions the resettled people live in and the problems they faced as a result of trails of broken promises.
“The native communities are determined to fight against the construction of the Baram Dam and what they saw in Sungai Asap and Tegulang has hardened their anti-dam feelings.”
Local folk taken to China’s Three Gorges Dam
He said SEB has been organising trips to China for the Baram people to see the Three Gorges Dam, a HEP dam that spans the Yangtze River.
“But I think it makes more sense to see Tegulang, Matalun, Batang Ai and especially Sungai Asap, which are in Sarawak, and how the state government has resettled those moved out, ” Peter added.
Meanwhile, a young Kenyah professional, Henry Sigau, described the visit to the resettlement areas as very important as it was good way to learn the impact of resettlement on the people forced to moved out for government projects.
“We must know what has happened to those who were forced to be resettled by the past dams and what were the promises made to them in making them agree to move out,” Henry said.
A Penan community leader, Panai Erang of Ba Abang, expressed concern as to whether the promise of the new Bandar Baru Baram township made to the people of Baram as their resettlement area would be honoured.
Panai said it could be another broken promise, with the resettlement area of Tegulang being clear proof of empty promises.
In Tegulang, he noted, there was no school, clinic, police station, agriculture department or government office as promised to the people before they moved there.
“The long stretch of road to the resettlement area is a mud road that is not well maintained.
“SEB told us that the resettlement area for Murum is of world class, making it sound heavenly. But what we saw was very disappointing,” Panai added.
Expressing a similar sentiment was Nugang from Long Liam, who said “the promises by the government to the people in Tegulang have been empty promises”.