Study needs before building dam

Objection: Villagers and activists protesting against the proposed mega dam in Papar in July 2019. — Filepic

THE Taskforce Against Kaiduan (now Papar) Dam (Takad) from Penampang, Sabah, and the Save Papar River Committee from Papar, Sabah, express our strongest protest at a recent statement made by state Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony and reported in The Borneo Post on Feb 18. In the article titled “Papar dam project to proceed as planned”, Anthony said that the mega dam doesn’t affect the people of Penampang as the proposed site has been moved to Papar.

We regret to learn that the Sabah government has decided that an insignificant shift in location is acceptable instead of scrapping the dam entirely because of enviromental concerns and how it negatively affects indigenous peoples.

The statement reveals that the government fails to understand that a mega dam, because of its magnitude, will affect the environment and everyone living by the river regardless of the dam’s location. Rich green land and clean rivers are lifelines and central to a way of life, with sacred ancestral tradition attached as our identity. We are indigenous people who live with and rely on nature. We are not urban settlers who live in lots and rely on modern amenities.

According to a policy paper titled “The Limits of Social Protection: The Case of Hydropower Dams and Indigenous Peoples’ Land” (by Fad-zilah Majid Cooke, Johan Norden-svard, Gusni Saat, Frauke Urban and Giuseppina Siciliano), large hydropower dams present immense social and environmental challenges for local communities, which can include resettlement of individuals and communities; psychological stress; loss or decline of livelihood and assets; changes to lifestyles and traditions; impacts on fishing, agriculture and food security; impacts on access to and quality of water; and a wide range of adverse environmental effects.

We have in the past sent a memorandum to the Sabah Chief Minister and the Prime Minister explaining our protest and to seek an alternative to a mega dam in the form of natural water catchment, a sustainable method suggested by Prof Dr Felix Tongkul of Universiti Malaysia Sabah to aid the government in tackling the clean water situation in Sabah. Until today, we haven’t received any feedback or response and all we have heard is what has been reported in the news, ie, that the mega dam will proceed with a minor shift in location.

To date we, the people affected by the decision, are still in the dark over the issue of actual needs and capacity assessment for a mega dam. We are not aware of any comprehensive report made public that would allow us to collaborate with the government that we voted for on this issue. We have not been engaged or consulted on an important decision that will affect our lives and future in our only remaining piece of ancestral land. What’s worse, it was recently reported that the study on water storage and capacity and needs is still ongoing and the relevant authorities are still collecting data.

We are puzzled why the state government is pushing for this mega dam urgently while all the issues as stated above remain unresolved and no resolution either to the State Water Department’s corruption case that the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency) began investigating in 2016.

Sabahans need to know what is the increasing demand and the capacity assessment for a mega dam. We, the indigenous peoples of Penampang and Papar, again repeat our protest and objection to the mega dam. We call for an independent commission comprising experts from Sabah, federal

and international levels to study the actual demand, the dam’s capacity and its impact on indigenous peoples and the environment in an open, transparent, inclusive and objective manner. A government elected by the people must prioritise the people, especially vulnerable indigenous peoples, and nature, not contractors and profit.


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