Home News Activists in Sarawak denounce the construction of 10 new mega-dams

Activists in Sarawak denounce the construction of 10 new mega-dams

A project to build 10 new mega-dams in Sarawak, Borneo, was announced last month, adding to the five already operational. This development poses a risk to the future of local indigenous communities who live in remote areas and face displacement and relocation far from their natural habitat.

According to human rights activists in Malaysia, these mega-dams primarily benefit wealthy local tycoons and foreign investors. The construction of these structures not only displaces entire indigenous communities but also destroys precious biodiversity through deforestation and extensive flooding of forests.

Peter John Jaban, a human rights activist, spoke to AsiaNews, saying, “I have just returned from visiting a longhouse near the Batang Ai Dam in Lubuk Antu, home to 38 families. The natives here live in darkness, yet to benefit from the hydroelectric energy produced by the nearby dam.”

He explained that the Indigenous families use a generator from 7 pm until midnight, lack household appliances, and have no internet coverage. “Who really benefits from these projects?” Jaban questions. He highlights that dam construction forces tribal communities to relocate to unfamiliar resettlement sites where they previously lived, farmed, hunted, and traded forest products locally.

“The construction of hydroelectric dams is criticized globally for these very reasons. If these projects brought tangible benefits to the population, no one would complain; but often, they result in severe social and environmental damage,” he adds.

The Society for the Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak (SCRIPS) notes that the existing five mega-dams have not benefited the local people. Michael Jok, Secretary General of SCRIPS, echoes Jaban’s sentiments: “The economic gains from these dams largely go to foreign industrialists and local magnates.”

SCRIPS opposes the state government’s plan, announced by Utilities and Telecommunications Minister Datuk Julaihi Narawi, to construct 10 more dams across the state. The Indigenous communities demand answers and accountability from Sarawak’s local government and state assembly.

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Minister Narawi explained, “We have identified 10 river basins capable of generating electricity. The plan by Sarawak Prime Minister Abang Johari Openg aims to produce 10 gigawatts of electricity by 2030.” Jok told AsiaNews, “We insist on a written report detailing the construction of cascade dams, including a thorough field survey of the pros and cons. We want our experts included in the discussion.”

Another NGO, Save The Rivers, based in Sarawak, reported that past hydroelectric projects have left a legacy of broken promises and disappointments for the indigenous peoples and local communities, with unresolved issues over compensation, land, and housing either ignored or deliberately overlooked.

Peter Kallang, the president, commented to AsiaNews, “The government focuses solely on economic gains, whether for the State or others, neglecting the well-being of those impacted by these projects.” Kallang stressed that protecting human rights and the environment should be paramount in massive projects like these.

“As indigenous peoples rely on rivers and land for their livelihoods, their rights must be respected through adequate, thorough, and meaningful consultations before projects commence, adhering to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which calls for free, prior, and informed consent.”

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