Sabah CM’s praise for Bakun Dam riles activists

A hydro-electric power station at Bakun which was handed over to the Sarawak government last year.

KOTA KINABALU: A Sarawak-based environmental group is unhappy with recent remarks by Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, in which he appeared to have lauded Sarawak’s controversial Bakun Dam.

The Save Rivers group described as lopsided Shafie’s remark that “Sarawak is reaping the benefits” from Bakun Dam. It said Shafie did not take into account the long standing problems and complaints of indigenous people affected by the project.

The group said the Bakun Dam had submerged 700 sq km of forest, farm land and villages, and displaced some 10,000 indigenous community members from 15 villages. “The government promised that the Bakun Dam would bring job opportunities, an improved standard of living and development. However, these remain as empty promises despite many formal complaints.”

Most of the displaced people were still struggling to eke out a living in Sungai Asap where they were resettled. “In their original villages, they had vast lands for farming, hunting and foraging. In Sungai Asap each family was only given three acres of farm land.”

Shafie’s comment on Bakun Dam was made to drive home the need for the Papar Dam in Sabah.

He reminded Sabahans that when the Bakun Dam was being built, activists successfully brought their case to the United Nations. However, Sarawakians were now enjoying the benefits of the dam, and the Sarawak government even sold electricity to its neighbours.

However Save Rivers quoted Jackly Likinsim, a resident of Kampung Biusang in Papar, as saying that the Papar Dam “doesn’t not make sense.” He said: “Why should they build a mega dam when Sabah recorded high amount of rainfall while Gunung Emas and the Crocker Range are natural reservoirs, supplying water to the Papar river which never runs dry.”

Save Rivers said also quoted two Sarawak assemblymen who lamented the slow development of the Belaga district, and said Belaga town was the only one in Sarawak not connected to the electricity grid.

Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, in commenting on the Papar Dam construction, said social and environmental wellbeing must never be compromised by economic objectives.