Address social and environmental impacts of dams, say NGOs

Michael (far left) says the authorities must not ignore environmental problems faced by Belaga people. Edward says locals are still struggling to rebuild their lives after being resettled since the dams’ construction.

RESIDENTS of Belaga want the Sarawak government to address the social and environmental impacts caused by the construction of Bakun and Murum dams.

In an online meeting on climate change, which saw the participation of 80 people from several organisations, Persatuan Anak-Anak Daerah Belaga chairman Edward Agong Ajan said residents there had seen significant changes during and after the construction of the two dams.

The meeting was jointly organised by the Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office, Akademi Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Bintulu campus.

“Long Busang has experienced bad floods many times, even though it is located quite far from the Bakun dam.

“We lost a big part of our ancestral land, which is now underwater.

“We are still struggling to rebuild our lives in the resettlement sites,” said Edward.

He said they were planning to move back to their “tana lepu’un” (ancestral land), which was rich in natural resources and something the resettlement area lacked.

“We want the government to address the social and environmental impacts resulting from the creation and operations of both dams.

“We want to have some share in these projects in the form of royalties.

“While we do not have money to contribute as shareholders, we are the people who own Belaga, the site of these two dams,” he said, adding that climate change had also affected them.

“We talk about mitigation measures to heal our planet, so it is also fair to consider improving our condition as a people directly affected by the construction of the dams,” said Edward.

He noted that the main contributors to climate change were from greenhouse gas emissions, burning of land area converted into plantation, bulldozing of top soil from forest harvesting and other factors which brought haze and floods that turn rivers muddy.

The Society for Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak secretary-general Michael Jok urged leaders of the country and the community to first find out the root causes of climate change that was affecting local folk.

“After diagnosing the problem, we can initiate various solutions to overcome the problem.

“The authorities should not ignore the environmental problem and accuse certain quarters of making it a political issue,” he added.

Kenyah Uma Baha Women’s Association Sibu chairperson Umie Liau said the government should reveal the findings by a special task force that investigated the Aug 21 logjam at Batang Baleh and Batang Rajang.

“The government must study the root cause of these environmental problems and make the report public.

“The task force needs to find out what caused the incident and provide solutions,” she said.

The meeting also discussed frequent floods affecting longhouse residents, especially those staying in Long Busang, Belaga at Upper Rajang River as well as landslides that occurred at Long Busang riverbank.

Also discussed was the release of water from dams, which caused frequent floods and damaged vegetation as well as loss of poultry, affecting residents living below the Bakun Dam and along Sungai Rajang.

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Belaga , residents , Bakun , Murum , dams , social , environmental , impacts


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