Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dams in Sarawak, boon or bane?

Baradan Kuppusamy in IPS: "I don’t know what's going to happen to our people … what our future will be?" Tribal leader Kelak Ubin worries over plans to build a dozen dams in the pristine, interconnected river ecology of Sarawak, home to many ethnic tribes in Malaysia and located north-west of Borneo Island.

Considered the third largest island in the world, Borneo occupies an area the size of Singapore and lies at the centre of Maritime South-east Asia. It is divided among three countries, namely, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. At its north lie Sarawak and the disputed Malaysian state, Sabah.

The proposed Sarawak complex of hydroelectric dams is expected to lead to a forced resettlement of the affected tribal communities to an unfriendly place as well as to inundation of the state’s vast tracts of rainforest, said to be the earth’s oldest tropical rainforest. "Our life ... our tradition is all connected to the land. Our way of life is inherited from our ancestors," Ubin told IPS. "We don’t know any other way of life."

"Our very existence is under threat. "They (government officials and private entrepreneurs) have promised to resettle us and pay us some money, but I fear our traditional way of life will die with the forest." The proposed massive dams are intended to generate cheap electricity and feed China's rapidly expanding economy on top of Malaysia’s energy- consuming manufacturing industries that are intended to be relocated to the state. The complex is expected to have a combined power-generating capacity of 7,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020, or at least 600 percent more than the current capacity of the island.

A state official, speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, explained why exploitation of Sarawak's rivers makes economic sense and moving industries to the island is a better option: "Sarawak’s interconnected river system is unique and unlike any in the world. The system is the state's greatest wealth and, if tapped intelligently, will feed industries that need cheap power like aluminum smelters," he said….

Boats in Sarawak, shot by Cayce, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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