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Forum Home > General Discussion (Kejae) > STOP BARAM DAM, by Peter N.J. Kallang

Kenyah Lepo Tau, Sarawak (Borneo)
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Beside the colossal environmental devastation and severe consequences on the ecosystem that the dreadful Baram dam will bring, it will also rage a permanent degeneration of the ethnic identity and heritage of the populace who live in the region. Based on the number of villages, the most affected are the Kenyah followed by the Kayan and Penan population. These are also the same majority groups of people who are most affected by the Bakun Dam which was just commissioned. The same like it was done in Bakun, the decision in building the Baram dam seems to be in total disregard for all those who are affected. It is built for the benefit of others rather than those who live in Baram or for the long term good of the Baram.

As one of those affected I just cannot understand this injustice and this outrageous and abusive exploit. This seems to be a senseless exploitation which is primarily driven by avarice coupled with immorality. For us who are directly and the adversely affected parties, no one can blame us in thinking that this is a calculated, intentional and purposeful maneuver to wipe out our races. As to why it could be seen as an act in complete disregard for our wellbeing and opinion could be proven by the priority given to the preparatory construction activities done even before the proper Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are completed or perhaps not even started and made accessible to affected and interested parties. In doing this, it seems that the construction of the dam is to be implemented whatever the findings or recommendation would eventually be when the EIA or SIA is done, if they are done.

The Baram is the least developed part of Sarawak and arguably the least developed area in the whole of Malaysia. So far, the only so called “development” which are seen in the Baram are the colossal and exhaustive exploitation or extraction of the Baram natural resources; these are like the reckless harvesting of the timber, extraction of lime stone, sand dredging, vast oil palm plantations and now the dam for Hydropower Electrical Generation. So far practically all the beneficiaries of these so called developments are big companies owned by big tycoons or mega rich individuals from outside the Baram. Most of the workers employed at these facilities are also those from outside Baram and a lot of them are foreigners. So to say that these “development” bring employment is a fantasy. Like all the past exploitation of the Baram resources there is little doubt that employment or economic spinoff from the proposed dam is “just a pie in the sky" for the Baramites. As seen at the construction stage of the Bakun and Murum dams, the locals are not employed in significant numbers during the construction or their significant involvement in the operations after completion of the construction. So, we do not see how the Baram dam can bring significant economic opportunities or better living standard for the locals.

Recently, I had a conversation with a headman from one of the villages which is within the proposed reservoir area of the Baram dam. He criticized those who do not plant rubber or not building new longhouse for fear that these would be flooded when the dam is completed; he said that he did not believe that the government would build such a dam. He said that if such a dam was to be built the government would have already been busy consulting the affected people and getting their consent. The reaction by this particular headman reflects the effectiveness of the discreet process practiced in building the dam. The dam construction although it will affect a lot of people, at the moment is one dark secret kept away from those living in Baram. If it is occasionally mentioned by the proponents, the subject would be down-played, watered-down with downright euphemism. However, the reality as we learnt from newspaper reports and information dripping from the project supporters speaks of an affected area covering 38,900 hectare (389 sq km) or ½ the size of Singapore Island. It will be a construction towering around 180 meters above sea level and will generate 1200 MW of electrical power. So with these realities, no one can blame the fear which was noted by the headman. This fear is shared by many in the whole of Baram whether they are living above or below the proposed dam site.

At least 90% of the land mass which will be flooded by the dam’s reservoir will be the cultivated Native Customary Right land (NCR). The foreseeable fiasco resulting from this will no doubt be contributed by the now famous Government’s interpretation of NCR which differ from that of the native’s custom (Adat). The native’s interpretation is recognized by the judiciary as proven by the various court cases where the native claimants have won. This will again result in more cases of dissatisfaction among the people affected. With the single mindedness of the government in constructing the dam, the people, for whom they are supposed to bring development, will unavoidably be marginalized. For the Orang Ulu their very survival from generation to generation has been based on the land. They are basically farmers and gatherers. To disregard this fact would be to purposefully disorientate and thus destroy a harmonious way of life. Flood from the dam and the infrastructure associated with the construction will definitely bring irreparable damage to the whole environment. It will destroy a heritage for which all Malaysian or human race should respect and harness.

Relocation of the people to make way for the Baram dam will definitely result in a permanent social damage. The Kenyah and Kayan people traditionally live in longhouses. Even the very structures of the longhouses are traditional in nature, reflecting the social structure of the communities and thus keeping them united. With the social structure, order and solidarity is possible. These social structures have been keeping the Kenyah and Kayan together from time immemorial, enabling them to face famines, wars, epidemics and natural tragedies. These structures are delicate and are now facing a lot of challenges from modern lifestyle and globalization. Mass relocation of the people will no doubt spell the end of the traditional social structure.

In a traditional Kenyah or Kayan community, each longhouse normally comprises a group of people who are of the same dialect. For the Kenyah they could be Lepo Tau, Badeng, Lepo Aga, Jamuk, Long Sebatu etc. For the Kayan they could be Uma Baluvuh, Uma Kelep, Uma Pu etc. The people of each dialect have, from generation to generation, their bonds to each other making it possible for them to live with a family like attitude towards one another. Even in the face of the present large rural-urban migration the Kenyah and Kayan consider their ancestral villages as their real home. For them towns and cities are work places. Most of them maintain their houses in their ancestral villages, Baram or Belaga and they normally go back home on festive occasions like Pusau Anak, Petakau Anak, Christmas or Suen. Relocating the people to make way for the dam will pose a direct challenge to this bond that is part of their social structure.

The construction of the dam will not bring development but severe and permanent damages to the whole environment and the community at large. Development must be for the immediate and long term good of the all the people with minimal, repairable consequences or no damage to the environment. The people must know the pros and cons of the dam. Plenty of information must be made freely available for them. The SIA and EIA must be made public and open for comments and feedbacks. It must be open to public for scrutiny and debates. Every voice from the affected communities must be heard. No one can speak for another person, whether they are headmen or politicians. If ever the dam is to be built, the decision for major project like the construction of massive dams should be made by the people and with the people. It must be a collective decision which is made based on well informed decisions. No coercion or bullying is to be employed. So looking at the proposed Baram dam none of these mandatory or civility, humane requirements is met. The proponent of the dam seems to play hide and seek with those affected. From the secretive approach they are taking, it is clear that the proponent of the dam have something to hide. There are plenty of humane and viable ways to achieve development with win-win situation for everybody and Malaysia as a whole. Baram dam is not necessary for bringing development to the Baram or Malaysia.

So say no Baram Dam!

p/s: All contents and photos, courtesy of Mr. Peter N.J. Kallang.  Thank you!

February 3, 2013 at 11:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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