MIRI – On 8 March a news portal published a report quoting the Sarawak state assembly member for Telang Usan Dennis Ngau as saying that logging poses no threat to indigenous communities in the Baram.
Ngau said: “After engaging with these local communities, I realised they welcomed logging.” Ngau went on to belittle community efforts to stop logging, such as the recent blockade at Ba Abang.
Contrary to the assembly member’s claims, opposition to logging is widespread in the Ulu Baram, as are the environmental impacts of logging.
It is well substantiated that logging poses a threat to the environmental, social and cultural wellbeing of remote indigenous communities in the Baram. Industrial-scale logging harms the plant, animal and ﬁsh populations that communities rely on for their food security. Logging damages waterways, causing siltation, landslides and heavy ﬂooding. It threatens vital medicinal plants and restricts access to the forest products used for handicrafts.
“We are not happy when the company continues to work because the forest will vanish, forest products are diﬃcult to ﬁnd – such as sago, rattan, medicines; game is also diﬃcult to hunt and the polluted water and soil erosion cause the ﬁsh to die,” Pada Jutang, the kampong chief on Long Pakan, said.
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The problem is not only the direct impacts of logging themselves, but also the way that logging companies conduct themselves. As the Stop The Chop campaign has shown, many communities take issue with the way that logging companies have acted in Sarawak.
“Communities have come to us complaining of a lack of access to environmental and social impact assessments,” Celine Lim, the managing director of Save Rivers, said. “They have found logging that has taken place on their lands without free, prior and informed consent. They have participated in completely inadequate consultations or been left out of the process entirely.”
Communities have collected photos, video and satellite data to prove their claims – which have been submitted to both national and international certiﬁcation bodies. The treatment of indigenous communities by logging companies in the Baram has also been questioned by the the UN.
In the statement, Ngau points out that the logging companies have built roads to improve access to the Ulu Baram.
But communities refuse to be held hostage over essential infrastructure and call on the government to step up and maintain the roads, not the logging company.
David Bilong from Long Semiyang, Baram said: “Logging roads are meant for logging companies to transport logs. The roads that we want are roads that should be provided to us by the government. We want accessible tar roads just like other villages in this country. Is Sarawak economy only dependent on logging, that Baram for 40 years has had no choice but to still depend on logging roads for accessibility?”
“Provide us the main road as basic infrastructure and we will be able to generate and manage a sustainable economy from this area and we don’t have to depend on third party like logging companies for scraps. We are left behind in all manners of basic services and amenities because this most basic infrastructure is not afforded to us,” Jacinta Baun from Long Moh explained.
Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang had this to say: “After more than 40 years of intensive industrial-scale logging being carried out in Baram and which reaps billions of dollars for timber tycoons and associates, now the communities are constantly reminded by uninformed politicians to be happy with unpaved, dirt, makeshift roads and ﬂimsy log bridges. The available employment opportunities which are often bragged about are negligible compared to the thousands who are being deprived.”
One of the many obvious impacts of logging is the increase in ﬂooding in the Baram area, which is becoming more frequent and more severe. Save Rivers is working to collect data on mitigation measures to support communities, who are fed up with being constantly ﬂooded.
The assembly member’s remarks dismissing the serious and genuine grievances of Baram communities demonstrate a real lack of understanding of the issues and needs on the ground.
It is up to the communities to decide if they feel under threat, not Dennis Ngau. If he claims to speak on behalf of communities, he has to start listening to their legitimate claims. – Save Rivers/Keruan