SARAWAK ASSEMBLY The state government under Chief Minister Adenan Satem should re-consider its plans to build 12 more dams in the state, nine of these being large dams, because they will only enrich its cronies.
Ba'Kelalan assemblyperson Baru Bian said during the debate of the 2015 Sarawak Budget yesterday that the Bakun Dam was supposed to produce sufficient power for the needs of the state and for industries in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewal Energy (Score).
"It appears that the government is determined to build dams and invite foreign investors to establish industries here by offering attractive rates.
"Many cynical Sarawakians will no doubt say that these dam projects are to enrich the many cronies and rent seekers who abound in this state," said Baru, who is the Sarawak PKR chief.
He said that the state government must re-consider its dam-building spree, pointing out that the state should take a lesson from the experiences of other countries that have built similar dams and suffered detrimental effects from them.
"The footages of dam failures from around the world are frightening in the intensity of the water surge and the damage they cause. In a technologically advanced country like the United States of America, dam failures have been documented in every state.
"In Malaysia, just last week, the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam in Cameron Highlands broke down due to torrential rain, killing three Indonesian workers and causing huge property losses," Baru said.
Aside from the risk of dam failures, he said, the social and environmental costs of dams are too high a price to pay.
Baru then went on to tell of Thayer Scudder, one of the world's foremost experts on resettlement of people displaced by dams, had throughout most of his life held the hope and belief that dams, if well constructed and managed, would lift the people's lives out of poverty.
'Large dams aren't worth the cost'
In August this year, Scudder announced that he had changed his mind.
In an article entitled 'Large dams just aren't worth the cost' published in The New York Times on Aug 24, Scudder describes how he came to believe that dams have disastrous environmental and socio-economic consequences.
The displaced Tongans of the Kariba Dam in Zambia and Zimbabwe went from being cohesive and self-sufficient to being plagued by 'intermittent hunger, rampant alcoholism and astronomical unemployment', Scudder wrote.
Scudder's later experience with a dam in Laos confirmed his suspicion that 'the task of building a dam is just too complex and too damaging to priceless natural resources', Baru told the House.
Scudder’s findings are corroborated in an Oxford University Study published in March 2014, titled ‘Should We Build More Large Dams? The Actual Costs of Hydropower Megaproject Development’, which found that without even taking into account the invariably negative and often vast social and environmental impacts, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.
Baru said that earlier this year, a Norwegian company Norconsult, which was tasked to carry out an independent assessment of Murum Dam's turbines, reported that the dam suffered from serious defects that can potentially cause a "catastrophic" breakdown.
"Although SEB predictably downplayed the report and claimed that repairs would be completed without extra cost, the fact is that there were defects in the turbines. It has been reported that such defects in the turbines cannot be repaired in situ or at the site but only at the factory.
"Can we have some clarification from the minister concerned about this allegation and a report on the turbines' defects, and what has been done about it?" he asked.
Baru said that for over a year, the people of Baram have been blockading their lands against the construction of the Baram Dam.
This dam, if built, will displace 20,000 people who will lose their homes as 26 villages will be submerged in water. These people have managed to collect 10,000 signatures protesting the building of the dam, he said.