Nineteen years after resettlement, many serious issues remain unresolved, affecting the displaced people’s social and economic wellbeing, says Peter Kallang.
Dry taps or murky domestic water is not the only outstanding issue suffered by those who were displaced to make way for the controversial Bakun Dam.
Although there has been a chorus of complaints about the dirty water supply recently, the authorities should also seriously and urgently draft an overall action plan to solve the many problems existing in the resettlement area. They owe it to the villagers to fulfil promises which were made to them before and after they were moved to Sungai Asap.
Nineteen years after they have been resettled, there are still many more outstanding and serious issues which have affected the people’s social and economic wellbeing. Some of these problems concern their farmland, housing, unpaid compensation, roads, telecommunication and job opportunities.
One of the most commonly shared woes is regarding their land – both farmland and the land allocated for their longhouses, which is insufficient to meet their requirements.
For farmland, most of the land owners are not able to fully use theirs because the sites are not accessible by road. The only means to reach their land is on foot through the forest. So transporting produce from the land or bringing equipment for farming can only be done by manually carrying them and walking for hours.
When asked, Alexander Lihan from Uma Nyaving, Sungai Asap, says, “After our many complaints, the authority did build a main road from the trunk road to the farm site. However, it was not tarmac but surfaced with a thin layer of pebbles. Besides, there were no feeder roads from there to the land plots located away on either side from that main road.
“But now after just a couple of years, even that so-called main road is washed away and it is overgrown with bushes and tall grass. Now, we are back to square one.”
Alexander adds, “In our old village, the river was our means of transport, and with their own boats, the folks were able to reach their farms or anywhere they want to go. So here, most of us are not able to farm like we did in our old villages. ”
Tuah Miku, also of Uma Nyaving in Sungai Asap, says, “If the authorities fulfil their promises which they made before we moved and at campaign times for the various state or general elections, it will go a long way in solving our problems.”
He shows the manifesto for the candidate who won the Murum state seat in the 2016 state election:
“Until today, there are so many who have not received the full compensations for their former home and land.”
One family from the Penan Talun village in the Sungai Asap resettlement area (who wanted to remain anonymous) complains about poor workmanship, cheap soft wood and inferior quality materials used to build the houses allocated to those resettled.
To prove their point, they show their toilet: the toilet bowl and the sewer pipes has dropped off and the septic tank for the toilet is overflowing.
But the toilet is still being used. As the houses stand on stills, the faeces from the toilet just drops on the bare ground under the building. The situation causes a disgusting stink in their whole house.
Peter Kallang, the chairman of Save Rivers, observes, “In order to be called sustainable, developments must be environmentally and socially friendly. The wellbeing of the people or the human rights issues must be prioritised when planning for any development. Bakun, Murum and Batang Ai are not good examples.”