Malaysiakini Letter

Glorifying Bakun to promote Papar

Peter Kallang

LETTER | Shafie Apdal's recent statement saying that “Sarawak is reaping the benefit” from the controversial Bakun dam is a lopsided remark. This remark could be based on a publicity stunt by the Sarawak state government and Sarawak Energy Bhd without taking into account the long-standing problems and complaints of the indigenous peoples affected by the project.

The Bakun dam submerged an area of 700 sq. km of forest, farmland and villages. Some 10,000 indigenous community members from fifteen villages were displaced and resettled in Sungai Asap. In Sungai Asap, most of them are still struggling to eke out a living when in their original villages they had vast land for farming, hunting and foraging. 

But in Sungai Asap each family was only given three acres of farmland. This is not enough to sustain a living, especially since much of the land is rocky, sloped and sandy. On top of that, many plots of the land are inaccessible since there are no roads and very difficult terrain.

The government promised that the Bakun dam would bring job opportunities, an improved standard of living and development. However, these remained empty promises. Despite the many formal complaints and grumblings from the people, their plight seems to go unnoticed and unheard. 

At a recent press conference by the state assemblyperson for Belaga, Liwan Lagang, and the state assemblyperson for Murum, Kennedy Chukpai Ugon, both lamented the slow pace development at the Belaga district after more than 20 years of the construction of the Bakun dam followed by the Murum dam in 2014.

As reported in Dayak Daily on May 20, Liwan Lagang said, “We are lighting up Sarawak and yet we (those living below the Bakun dam) don’t have electricity. What we want is 101 percent (coverage). Other places, like Bau, are already having 97 percent coverage of 24-hour electricity supply from the grid while Belaga town is the only town in Sarawak not connected to the grid”.

On the Kaiduan/Papar dam, for any mega-project which affecting the environment, properties and the people, the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as stated in the UN Declaration on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (Undrip) must be seriously observed. Any social and environmental wellbeing must never be compromised by economic objectives.

Jackly Likinsim, a local from Kampung Biusang, Papar, said, “Why should they build a mega-dam when Sabah records high amount of rainfall with Mount Emas and the Crocker Range as natural reservoirs, supplying water to the Paper river which never runs dry. It does not make sense unless the government is trying to harvest the timber on the hills at the proposed site'.

Save Rivers is a civil society organisation which advocates for and empowers rural communities to protect and restore lands, rivers and watersheds.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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