Over 300 Penan people are living in makeshift shelters as they blockade roads to the Murum dam construction site. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE).
Indigenous people have expanded their blockade against the Murum dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, taking over an additional road to prevent construction materials from reaching the dam site. Beginning on September 26th with 200 Penan people, the blockade has boomed to well over 300. Groups now occupy not just the main route to the dam site, but an alternative route that the dam’s contractor, the China-located Three Gorges Project Corporation, had begun to use.
“The major works on the construction of the dam have been paralyzed over the last one week. The drivers have left home and let their cement tankers, lorry trucks and trailers with building materials had been hauled over and park at the road side near the blockade site,” the Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE) said in an update on the blockade. “The access to the construction site of Murum hydroelectric dam project is totally blocked on all directions with the setting-up of second road blockade by the Penans.”
The Penan are protesting what they say has been disdainful treatment from the government-owned corporation overseeing the 900 megawatt dam project, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB). The dams construction, which will inundate 24,500 hectares of native land, will lead to the involuntary resettlement of seven indigneous communities, who still remain in the dark about many of the details of the resettlement plan. In addition, the tribe alleges that SEB has been intentionally destroying important sacred and historical sites.
“We will not remove the blockade or move out of here until our demands are resolved and fulfilled by the government,” Labang Paneh, a representative from Long Wat village, said in a statement.
Families, including elderly and children, have set up makeshift camps near the blockade and appear to be in it for the long haul.
A government minister spent two days with the Penan investigating the blockade and speaking with them about their grievances.
“I went in and I saw the situation from the view of these Penans whose lives are being uprooted and whose future looks so uncertain,” Liwan Lagang, Sarawak Assistant Minister for Culture and Heritage, told The Star. “I found out that indeed, they had not been properly consulted and their concerns not addressed by those handling the construction of the project.”
For decades the Penan people have seen their customary forests felled for logging, plantations, dams, roads, and other big infrastructure projects with the Sarawak government refusing to recognize their land rights. Traditionally, the Penan were nomadic hunter-and-gatherers, but today most live in settled villages, but still depend on the forests for their livelihood.
Assistant Minister Lagang added that “contractors involved in the dam project are making millions of ringgit in the project. They must be considerate and exercise better social corporate responsibility and good public relations with the local affected natives.”
Sarawak already produces far more energy than the state uses leading critics to allege that numerous massive dam projects are merely means for corrupt officials to siphon off state funds and collect bribes. The state recently completed the 2,400 megawatt Bakun Dam, which produces double the energy consumed by Sarawak during peak times. Bakun resulted in the forced resettlement of 10,000 people.
Penan protesting the Murum dam. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE).
Penans sleeping in close quarters during the blockage. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE).
(09/29/2012) 200 indigenous men and women are blockading shipments of construction materials to a dam site in Malaysian Borneo to protest the impact of the hydroelectric project on their traditional forest home, reports the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), a Switzerland-based group that campaigns on behalf of forest people of Sarawak.
(09/19/2012) Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has headed the Malaysian state of Sarawak for over 30 years, is worth $15 billion according to a new report by the Bruno Manser Fund. The report, The Taib Timber Mafia, alleges that Taib has used his position as head-of-state to build up incredible amounts of wealth by employing his family or political nominees to run the state’s logging, agriculture, and construction businesses. Some environmental groups claim that Sarawak has lost 90 percent of its primary forests to logging, while indigenous tribes in the state have faced the destruction of their forests, harassment, and eviction.
(07/10/2012) In the 1980s images of loincloth-clad tribesmen blockading blocking logging roads in Malaysian Borneo shocked the world. But while their protests captured the spotlight momentarily, Borneo’s forests continued to be destroyed at rapid rates, undermining traditional communities that are dependent on these ecosystems for food, shelter, medicine, clean water, and spiritual inspiration. Nomadic tribes are now but a memory in Borneo, but other tribal groups continue to fight for their forests by seeking legal recognition of their lands and blocking destructive projects, including oil palm plantations, logging operations, and large-scale hydroelectric projects. Helping them is The Borneo Project, a Berkeley-based non-profit that works in partnership with indigenous communities and the small non-profits that support them.
(06/19/2012) Indigenous people from the Malaysian state of Sarawak have sent a letter to the German company, Fichtner GmbH & Co. KG, demanding that the consulting group halt all activities related to the hugely-controversial Baram dam, reports the NGO Bruno Manser Fund. Critics of the dam and it parent project known as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) initiative, say the hydroelectric dam will displace 20,000 people and flood 40,000 hectares of primary rainforest.
(04/24/2012) Documents under investigation show that around $90 million may have been laundered from logging companies in Sabah to UBS bank accounts linked to high-ranking Malaysian officials, according to the Sarawak Report. Critics of the government say the money is likely kickbacks from logging companies to government officials for the right to log in the state’s declining rainforests. Such transactions are alleged to occur typically in the run up to elections.
(03/27/2012) The world’s third largest mining company, Rio Tinto, and a local financial and construction firm, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), have cancelled plans for a $2 billion aluminum smelter to be constructed in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The cancellation calls into question Sarawak’s plan to build a dozen massive dams—known as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) initiative—that were proposed, in part, to provide power to the massive aluminum smelter. However, the mega-dam proposal has been heavily criticized for its impact on Sarawak’s rivers, rainforest and indigenous people.