Blockade on Potentially Disastrous Baram Dam May be Lifted
Mass flooding, environmental devastation and the displacement of countless indigenous people have characterized a hydroelectric dam campaign ramming its way through public opposition in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Construction of the Baram dam (the most recent of 12 proposed dams) has begun, but locals – having seen thousands of lives ruined by the project’s other dams – have ground progress to a halt with a year-long blockade.
In late July, Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem announced a moratorium on Baram dam construction. This was a victory for the local population but, still suspicious, they have continued to block entry to both the dam’s access roads.
“They are wary because they are aware of what the government did to the Penan who were displaced in the construction of the Murum dam,” said Mark Bujang, secretary of Save Rivers, a grassroots organization supporting the blockaders.
Sarawak’s Penan people were in a similar situation years ago. They lifted their blockade of the Murum dam to discuss compensation for the flooding that would destroy their homes. The Murum dam was completed, but the Penan never saw the RM500,000 ($116,000) compensation they demanded for each family displaced.
Minister Adenan recently agreed to hear the demands of the Baram dam blockaders. Their requests were simple – written assurance from the government that the project will not proceed, and return of the land used for the project to its original local owners. If the government agrees, the blockade may be lifted, but whether the administration can be trusted is yet to be seen.
The stakes of this negotiation are high. If completed, the Baram Dam will annihilate everything upstream on the Baram River, flooding 400 square meters of rainforest, destroying 26 villages and displacing 20,000 people. Save Rivers told the Sarawak state government it would give a decision on the blockade soon. For the sake of Malaysia’s communities and environment, the hope is that local demands will be met and the Baram dam will never be completed.