SAVE Rivers

SAVE Rivers

Friday, 27 April 2012

Staring into an uncertain future

19 April 2012

North View
By STEPHEN THEN

It will not be much of a problem for the younger generation but it will definitely be a daunting challenge for the older folk, to start a new life far away from their original home, when the proposed RM4bil Baram dam project takes place.

HAVING to face imminent life-changing events can be really daunting.

The look of concern and anxiety on their faces says it all ­– they are staring at the winds of change blowing straight in their direction.

And the only way these Baram folk know how to display their worries for all to see was by demonstrating.
A group of these Baram natives on Monday, staged a peaceful demonstration outside a hotel in Miri where Baram politicians and state authorities had gathered to discuss ongoing plans for the preliminary stages of ground works for the proposed RM4bil Baram dam project, some 250km inland from Miri City.

These demonstrators were vocal, chanting slogans against the construction of the dam, but at the same time exercised restraint.

And to the credit of Miri police, the uniformed personnel were very tolerant, choosing to keep watch from a safe distance and allowing the demonstration to proceed for 30 minutes before asking the group to disperse.
I saw similar scenes in Bakun 16 years ago.

Back then, there were some 10,000 Bakun folk from 15 longhouses facing the winds of change that would eventually see them uprooted from their ancestral longhouses, and resettled in what is today known as the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme.

These Bakun folk had back in 1996, protested their imminent fate, and some of them had even filed court injunctions against the Bakun dam project.

Three of these Bakun elders managed to obtain an injunction at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, but that too was eventually overturned following an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Bakun folk from the affected longhouses, located deep in the valleys of the Balui region, had to move out to make way for the eventual inundation of the entire valley that measures the size of Singapore.

This time in Baram, at least 20,000 people, from some 25 longhouses that will be inundated when the 1,000mw Baram dam is built at a location between Long Naah and Long Kesseh, would be relocated.

An area of about 39,000 ha would be flooded under depths of 162m of water to facilitate the creation of a reservoir that would feed water into the turbines for the production of electricity.

The electricity from the dam is meant to facilitate the industries that will be established in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).

There is no need for me in this column to touch on the merits of the Baram dam anymore, whether or not there is a need for another such dam project in Sarawak.

Senator Lihan Jok had said the project looked set to be implemented as planned.

When I called him on Monday to get his views on the demonstration, he was about to chair a meeting with the Sarawak Energy Bhd and with representatives of the affected settlements in the said hotel where the demonstration took place outside.

Together with Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau they were being briefed on preparations by the SEB to enter Long Naah and Long Kesseh to start rock-drilling in 20 different locations to study the stability of the rock structures.

Lihan said he understood the concern and worries of the Baram folk because he too was from Baram.

“Stephen, I consider you my friend, so I want to be very honest with you. The SEB wants to go into Long Naah and Long Kesseh to drill at least 20 holes into the ground to a depth of 60m so that they can determine the stability of the place where the base of the Baram dam will be built.

“Very soon, we will have to visit every settlement that will be affected by the Baram dam project. We will have to discuss the issues of resettlement, compensation and other related matters.

“Stephen, I don’t want to get into a debate on the need for the Baram dam. Right now, all I can say is that the rock-testing will start. We are not going to start the ground-breaking for the construction yet.

“However, the people of Baram must be informed of what is to happen. I hope they can see the benefits that this project can bring to them,” he stressed.

Based on what Lihan had said, and based on my own personal experiences from what I saw during the early days of the Bakun dam construction, it is imminent that the Baram dam project is about to take off.

Geological surveys for the Baram dam project had been conducted, starting quite a few years ago. This is not the first time that rock studies are being done in Long Kesseh and Long Naah.

I know how these affected residents must be feeling.

It is very difficult to leave behind familiar surroundings, especially the place we consider as home and where we grew up.

For the young ones, maybe they can adapt to the new places where they will have to restart their life.
But for those already in their late 40s and beyond, starting a new life in a new place far from the original home can be daunting.

It is like travelling inside a tunnel which is winding and twisting and dark, and the way forward is only visible for a short distance.

What lies at the next bend and how long this sort of winding journey will last.

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