Friday, February 8, 2013

Sarawak scales back Borneo dam plans

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Sarawak scales back Borneo dam plans
The Malay Mail, Friday, February 08, 2013
Location: KUCHING

SARAWAK'S state minister today said the government would not push ahead
with controversial plans to build 12 dams on Borneo island, after
outrage from local tribes and environmentalists.

The proposals sparked fears that the dams would destroy pristine
rainforests, endanger wildlife, and displace natives in Sarawak, a
Malaysian state crossed by powerful rivers with rich jungle habitats.

"It is not a firm plan to build 12 dams. I don't think we will need
that. We will only need four of them," Tan Sri Dato Sri Dr. James
Masing, Sarawak's state minister of land development, told AFP in an

He said the government was backing off in response to widespread
criticism. Protests over the years have seen activists and locals
staging blockades of roads into dam areas.

"I'm pleased that this type of thing (protests) takes place. Not all
that we do is correct, and this shows we need to refine our plans and
think again," he said.

The government mooted plans for the dams as part of an industrial
development drive to boost the resource-rich state's backward economy.

But the now-complete Bakun mega-dam deep in the interior has been dogged
for years by allegations of corruption in construction contracts, the
flooding of a huge swathe of rainforest and displacement of thousands of
local tribespeople.

Besides Bakun, another dam at Murum is nearing completion and two others
are in the planning stages.

The four dams - at Bakun, Murum, Baleh and Baram - are already expected
to put out nearly 6,000 megawatts of power, six times what Sarawak
currently uses, Masing said.

"The protests are becoming more vocal on the ground so (the dam rethink)
is a very good development for me," said Peter Kallang, member of a
Sarawak tribe and chairman of SAVE Rivers, an NGO that has campaigned
against the dams.

However, he said plans for the Baram and Baleh dams should be scrapped
as well, noting that the Baram dam would displace about 20,000 people,
compared to about 10,000 at Bakun, and destroy irreplaceable forest.

He said SAVE Rivers last month organised a floating protest along the
Baram river that cruised down river for three days and was met with
support along the way by local tribespeople.

The Swiss-based jungle-protection group Bruno Manser Fund says about 90
per cent of Sarawak's rainforests have been damaged as the state
government has opened up virgin forest to loggers and palm-oil plantations.

Critics also allege chief minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has
ruled Sarawak since 1981, has enriched himself and his family through
corrupt timber and other dealings, and have called the dams white elephants.

He has dismissed the corruption allegations.

His critics accuse the federal government of failing to act against him
because his tight control of Sarawak has kept it a vital ruling
coalition stronghold. -AFP

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