Malaysia hydro project stirs anger

The Bakun dam is expected to generate far more energy than the country needs.

    The Bakun dam in Sarawak is set to be the biggest
    project of its kind in Southeast Asia

    Lim Keng Yaik, Malaysia's minister for energy and water, said: "I plan to build in 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts of extra hydropower."
    He is not worried that this will ruin the environment or rich forests.
    Asked whether his government would wait until the Bakun dam was ready, Yaik says: "No, we're already planning for the next stage, of which Murum dam is one."
    Displaced locals
    Once in operation, the Bakun dam will put 700sq km of land under water - equivalent to the size of Singapore.
    As a result, 10,000 indigenous people have had to move to government settlements. Many of them were subsistence farmers.
    They did not have any use for money - the forest provided the food and shelter - and now they are being asked to pay about $15,000 for a one-bedroom home.
    That's about 50 per cent more than a low-cost home in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
    Unfufilled pledge
    Most are struggling to make the payments because the jobs they were promised at the dam site never materialised.

    Most of the people displaced by the dam are
    indigenous people who lived off the land

    Yudep Apoi, a displaced resident, said: "When the government asked us to move here, we moved. It's difficult here because we have no water supplies, not enough water access and not enough land to farm. Many things are not enough here."
    Thirty kilometres away, Bangladeshi and Indonesian workers are putting the finishing touches to the dam.
    For supporters, the 220-metre high wall is a symbol of Malaysia's economic development.
    But environmentalists say the dam may produce only half the power it was meant to.
    The problem: a river thick with mud which clogs the dam's power-producing turbines.
    Logging's effects
    It is the result of logging in catchment areas that were supposed to be left untouched.
    Gurmit Singh, an environmentalist, said: "It was one of the problems early on because there was a debate about the life of the dam.
    "We said we were not buying the government's argument that the dam could last 50 years because we were extremely worried about siltation.
    "And we felt that even at that time the government would not be able to control development in the catchment area."
    But while the Bakun dam's developers can still try to rectify the situation by cleaning up the river, for the indigenous people of Sarawak, it is already too late.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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