Mon, Dec 28, 2009 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE : Mega-dams program triggers concerns for Borneo’s tribes, fauna

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

“There will be further loss of their heritage, their land, whatever forest they have left,” he says from his humble offices.

Ngau said a notice extinguishing the rights of the Murum people over the affected land has already been issued, and construction has begun, but so far there is no formal relocation proposal or offer of compensation.

He and his colleagues are now campaigning to halt the next of the dozen projects, the Baram Dam, but he says it is difficult to prove ancestral ownership as the oral history of his people is not admissible in court.

“It is quite sick to know that your own fellow man, your fellow Malaysian, doesn’t understand the customs and cultures and history of our people,” he said. “That is the tragedy here.”

“Even the British colonial rulers were very respectful of communal rights, they even encouraged the native communities to record their traditional boundaries. They did much better than our present Malaysian leaders,” he said.

Ngau said that the Penan, forced to shift from the Bakun area more than a decade ago, are still struggling to survive with insufficient farming land, schools, clinics, water supply and transport.

“You haven’t solved that problem — you want to start a new problem?” he asked.

Transparency International has labeled Bakun a “monument of corruption” and highlighted debate over whether there will be enough customers in 2011 when it becomes fully operational with a 2,400MW capacity.

All the valuable timber has already been removed from its catchment area, and the dam will begin filling up next month, taking eight months to submerge all 70,000 hectares.

Details of the 12 mega-dams envisaged by state body Sarawak Energy Berhad are scant — a map of proposed locations of dams purportedly to be built by 2020 was published on the Internet and seized on by campaigners.

Sarawak’s Rural Development Minister James Masing said that all 12 dams may not make it off the drawing board.

“That is a masterplan that we have the potential to build, they may not be built for 50 years,” he said earlier this year.

Masing, who is helping formulate the Murum relocation, said it is likely to happen in three to four years’ time but that first there should be a careful study of the people involved.

“There are some areas we have to refine. The settlement project must be done properly. What was done in Bakun may not be one of the best, we may have been ignorant of some of the issues,” he said earlier this year.

“We want to change them for the better,” said Masing, an anthropologist by training.

“They have good reason not to trust us, but we are not there to destroy them, we are trying our best to assist them,” he said.

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