Dam go-ahead shocks Sabah villagers

Children protesting against the dam project.

KOTA KINABALU: A grassroots movement formed to resist a plan to build a dam has accused Parti Warisan Sabah of breaking an election promise to scrap the project.

Diana Sipail of the Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam.

Yesterday’s news reports that the project has been revived have shocked villagers whose homes will be submerged, according to Diana Sipail, a spokesman for the Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam (Takad).

Noting that the dam now bears a different name, she said: “It will still be built on the same river and the same villagers will be affected. The only difference is the name has been changed from Kaiduan Dam to Papar Dam.”

According to local dailies, the Papar Dam will cover 5.22 sq km, an area just 0.08 sq km smaller than the area that would have been covered by the Kaiduan Dam. The cost of the Papar Dam is estimated to be RM2 billion. The Kaiduan Dam was estimated to cost RM2.3 billion.

State Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony has been quoted as saying that “only several villages involving about 200 people would be affected by the project” and that there would be no problem relocating them.

Sipail disagreed, saying the number of people facing displacement was closer to 2,000.

She said the state government had failed to address concerns raised by Takad, such as the submergence of native customary rights land, the loss of burial grounds and the relocation of people to places alien to them.

The most disappointing part of the news, she added, was that Anthony had used the previous government’s reports in his statements to justify the project.

“As the new person in charge of the ministry, he should have gone to the ground and done a new and more thorough study, taking into account the sentiments of the natives,” she said.

“He claimed only Papar would be affected and not Penampang. But the river flows from Penampang into Papar and both districts will be affected.

“He used exactly the same words as the previous minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan. He was just copying and pasting Pairin’s statements.

“We who live in the affected villages now feel cheated. What’s the point of voting for Parti Warisan Sabah if our homes will still be submerged anyway?

“When Warisan campaigners came into the villages to ask for our votes, they promised the dam would not be built if they won. It has not even been 100 days yet and they have started to go back on their promises.”

Takad has been fighting against the Kaiduan Dam or any dam of its kind in Sungai Papar because of environmental concerns and because the areas to be submerged are mainly native customary rights land.

It has said that the government should instead consider building coastal reservoirs, claiming these would be cheaper to build and maintain.

Pairin once said the dam was necessary for the prevention of water shortages expected by the year 2025.

He said the government could not afford to bow to pressure from 240 families when the lives of a million were at stake.

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