Anti-Sarawak dam protests in Malaysia, Australia

Separate rallies are taking place in Australia and Malaysia in a collective effort to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the construction of 12 mega-dams that are underway in Sarawak.

In Malaysia, anti-dam protesters demonstrated outside Kuala Lumpur Parliament building on Thursday. They held signs against the Murum Dam and Baram Dam and called on the Malaysian government to respect indigenous peoples’ demands for a fair settlement of their rights.

Anti-dam protesters carry banners in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Bruno Manser Fund)

In Murum, Sarawak, over 100 Penan leaders staged a blockade to stop the flow of traffic to the dam site on the same day. Their aim was to get the attention of the Malaysian government and the state owned-power company, Sarawak Energy,  and pressure them to stop the mega-dam projects.

The protesters hope they got the message across: Respect indigenous and human rights and provide appropriate compensation for the loss of their lands and homes.

Carrying signs, and food and bedding, they have taken over the only road to and from the dam site and are not allowing any traffic through.

Brihannala Morgan, director of the Borneo Project, said in a press statement that this dam, one of 12 mega dams planned across the region, will drown over 2,750 sq km of forest and traditionally owned land.

This is the second blockade that the Penan people of the Murum area have erected. The first blockade was in September 2012 when the Penan of Long Wat village held a blockade that delayed construction of the dam for over a month.

Sarawak Energy promised the Penan compensation and prime land for relocation, but failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, they are relocating the Penan to swampy areas that are unable to support their traditional agricultural practices and way of life.

Just before impoundment began earlier this month, the longhouse of Long Wat village was burned by Sarawak Energy workers. Details are still forthcoming, yet it appears that this case of arson was committed without the prior knowledge of the villagers.

“The world needs to stand up and take action against such rampant abuse of power,” said Morgan, adding, “The plight of the Penan is a fundamental example of corporate greed steamrolling human rights.”

According to SAVE-Rivers, the statewide network of anti-dam activists, the Penan are demanding RM 50,000 per family (about US $15,500), as well as 25 hectares of land, a 10 per cent share in the profits from the Murum Dam, as well as full compensation for their lost land and resources.

The Murum Dam is one of 12 mega dams slated to be built in Malaysian Borneo by 2020. The dam will produce 944 MW of energy, energy that currently has no purchasers or identified demand. On-the-ground efforts, such as SAVE-Rivers, work to coordinate indigenous-led resistance against dam expansion and massive resettlement.

Protest held in Hobart

A rally held at Hydro Tasmania head office in Hobart. (Photo: Sarawak Report)

The Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) hosted a separate protest at the at Hydro Tasmania head office in a show solidarity with the indigenous people of Murum, Sarawak.

Jenny Weber, spokeswoman of the HVEC, said Sarawak faces the dire consequences in light of the government’s failure to uphold human rights.

“Flooding of Murum Dam begun last Saturday, while six out of seven villages remain in the region, and more than 100 Penan people blockade at the Murum dam site,” she said.

Australia-owned Hydro Tasmania is implicated in the human and environmental violations by assisting Sarawak Energy.

The dam project in the area is reported to have caused flooding on the lands of indigenous peoples at Murum, although most of the affected villagers have not been resettled and their demands not addressed.

Weber also implicated Sarawak Energy workers as the suspected arsonist in a Penan village. “We have been informed that one Penan village was burnt down in a case of suspected arson by Sarawak Energy workers.” Other allegations include communities reporting the loss of fishing boats due to the impoundment. An estimated 1500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives will lose their homes due to the Murum dam impoundment,  Weber said.

“The construction of Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers. Hydro Tasmania, have staff secondments in Sarawak, including engineer Andrew Pattle who directed the Murum dam construction. Hydro Tasmania is responsible for the displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. We condemn Hydro Tasmania, as they continue to assist human rights violations and environmentally destructive practices in Sarawak,” Weber said.

“We are asking Hydro Tasmania and our Tasmanian Government to stop supporting the Sarawak government in their oppression of indigenous people in Sarawak, stop implicating our state in this humanitarian crisis.  As long as Tasmania assists the Sarawak regime they are culpable for assisting the Sarawak government’s human rights violations.  People of Murum, Sarawak and International NGOs are calling for urgent intervention and an immediate stop of the Murum dam impoundment,” Weber said.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown addresses conference delegates in Sarawak earlier this year.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flew to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak,  earlier this year to give his backing to a large group of local communities opposing the controversial mega dam projects in the region.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Bob Brown joins fight to save Sarawak rivers

Re-blogging:

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flew to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, this week to give his backing to a large group of local communities opposing the controversial mega dam projects in the region.

Former Greens Senator Bob Brown addresses delegates to the SAVE Rivers’ alternative conference.

More than 300 local indigenous people held a rally in Kuching amid the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) biannual conference – the IHA World Congress on Advancing Sustainable Hydropower  – which runs from May 20-25.

The congress is the world’s largest gathering of dam builders and financiers to discuss industry issues. It is also a venue to share practical experiences, policies, and solutions to climate, water, and energy challenges.

Australian-owned Hydro Tasmania (HT) is involved in the controversial dams and is also a sponsor of the event.

HT joined the project as a technical adviser to Sarawak Energy, the dam-building authority of the multi-billion Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).  The project involves 12 highly controversial dams projected to produce 28,000 MW of power.

Bob Brown poses with dam activists during the IHA Congress.

SAVE Sarawak Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers), which organised an alternative conference, said the dams would affect tens of thousands of indigenous people and flood over 2,000 square kilometres of rainforest.

The project is said to be lacking environmental impact assessments despite repeated demands from the affected communities. SAVE Rivers also says that China’s Three Gorges Corporation “began construction on the 944 megawatt Murum Dam in 2012 before its environmental impact assessment had even commenced, leaving affected communities with no option to negotiate resettlement outcomes.”

SAVE Rivers said the dams would be the energy backbone of the Sarawak government’s SCORE Initiative, the plan to rapidly industrialize the state primarily through the expansion of aluminium smelting facilities, palm oil plantations, and other commodity sectors.

Brown, accompanied by Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Centre, addressed the SAVE Rivers’ alternative conference while HT Chair David Crean and CEO Roy Adair are taking part in the IHA conference.

At the alternative conference,  indigenous communities were given a voice to oppose the dams being built on their land. On Wednesday, they arrived carrying banners saying ‘Respect Native Rights’, ‘Stop Baram Dam’, ’IHA Stop Collaborating With Corrupt Regime’, and ‘No More Dams,’ among other signs.

Protesters flash banners opposing the dams in Sarawak.

The dams are project of the Sarawak state government of Abdul Taib Mahmud who is under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after amassing a fortune of billions of dollars while in office.

Brown said in a statement: “Hydro Tasmania’s senior officers are addressing this conference of the world’s biggest dam builders on ‘sustainability’ while the indigenous people of Sarawak are protesting outside and while HT has four consultants working on these megadams which international organizations have condemned as involving gross corruption.”

In 2011, the IHA launched a voluntary auditing tool for dam builders to assess their social and environmental performance, called the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP). Zachary Hurwitz, Policy Program Coordinator at International Rivers, said  HSAP may be useful to guide dam builders and governments on sustainability. However, he admits the risk that “dam builders could use it to greenwash the worst dams, especially given such a context of heavy-handed repression and corruption.”

More protesters say ‘no to dams’.

In December last year, Peter Kallang, chairman of the SAVE Rivers group of Sarawak Indigenous leaders and James Nyurang, village headman from the Baram River Region, led a tour to Australia and called on Hydro Tasmania to pull their support out of the controversial dams. Related article HERE.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent