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Sarawak activists take campaign to Malaysian Parliament and Australia

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Environmental activists from Sarawak are taking their high-profile campaign against the building of 12 mega dams in the state to the Malaysian Parliament and then on to Tasmania. Peter Kallang reports.

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak is embarking on a drastic social and economic change via an energy-intensive programme called the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score). The powerhouse of Score comprises at least 12 planned mega dams which will displace tens of thousands of indigenous people. Baram Dam alone will displace 20000 natives and submerge more than 400 square kilometres of rainforest.

Currently, Sarawak has an excess of power where current peak demand in Sarawak lies at around 1000 MW; yet Sarawak Energy Berhad is planning for installed power of up to 7000MW by 2020. The ultimate plan is to increase that to 28000MW by 2030.

Local communities displaced by current mega dams in Sarawak still face many woes and unfulfilled promises. The Sarawak government has in particular acknowledged the failure of the Sungai Asap resettlement for the Bakun mega dam while promising that mistakes would be rectified for subsequent mega dams. Unfortunately for the Penan and Kenyah communities of Murum, the same mistakes are being made. The months-long blockade at Murum Dam reflects the failure of the Sarawak government in fully engaging the local communities who do not want the mega dam in the first place.

The very international standards that the Sarawak government claims to follow – such as the Equator Principles or the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) have been made a mockery. There has been no free, prior, informed consultations with indigenous peoples; (there has been a) lack of timely and appropriate social and environmental impact assessments and a failure to respect the indigenous people’s right to self-determined development.

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SAVE Sarawak’s Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) was formed in late 2011 to coordinate and enhance a movement by the affected communities in opposing the proposed dams. With a network, any known information concerning the proposed dams and related issues are shared. The network is made very necessary as information related to the dam is not freely available even to the affected people.

We have since conducted many on-the-ground awareness raising activities (roadshows and workshops) with affected communities in the Baram and held protests throughout Sarawak and West Malaysia, handed over a petition to the Chief Minister with thousands of signatures saying no to Baram Dam, and most recently visited the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office in Miri to lodge a corruption complaint against Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad.

Today, SAVE Rivers is visiting the Malaysian Parliament to call for an immediate halt to all planning works on further dams. SAVE Rivers is demanding full transparency from the Sarawak government on Score, calling for a state-wide dialogue on Score and development alternatives, and urging that the Sarawak government respect fully the rights of affected communities according to international standards, national and state laws.

After the Parliament visit, SAVE Rivers is heading to Australia to meet, local campaigners in Tasmania, fighting to save their forests from a Sarawakian-linked timber company. Together, we will inform the Australian people about Hydro Tasmania, a public company that is heavily involved in mega dam development in Sarawak. We also plan to meet with the heads of Hydro Tasmania and other Australian companies who are involved in Score.

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We believe that Australians would not want an Australian state-owned company such as Hydro Tasmania to be responsible to the destruction of livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the environment in Sarawak, and we hope to garner more support from our friends in Australia. We want Hydro Tasmania to get out of Sarawak; we want the Australian Government to get them out; and we want pressure from the Australian public to get them out.

The fight is not ours to fight alone, but together in solidarity with our friends in West Malaysia, Australia and the rest of the world.

Peter Kallang is chairman of Save Rivers

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