SAVE Rivers

SAVE Rivers

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Save Rivers : Mission Impossible?

It seemed a bit like Mission Impossible.

The task: to get Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley professor and expert of clean energy, into Sarawak in a day to accommodate his short trip to Borneo. The date: June 4th, 2012.

The problem: this date coincided with school holidays and Gawai Dayak, which meant that there were no flights available in short notice into Sarawak (the Manager of Civil Society Initiatives and Wildlife Conservation herself could not return home in Kuching to celebrate the festivities with her family).

Heading up the Baram river, slated to be dammed

The Dayaks of Sarawak usually celebrate the end of the harvest festival during the mid-year, that is around June. June 1st and 2nd in particular are considered the official Gawai Dayak celebrations, and are public holidays in the state, thus many Sarawakians return home to their villages to spend time with their families.


Articles from last year

31 August 2011

Baram Dam: Lying govt and big companies

Joseph Tawie

Local village headmen are being told that the government has shelved the construction of the Baram Dam.
The deceitful and insidious manner by which the state government is going about with the construction of the Baram Dam has angered the Orang Ulu communities in the dam project vicinity.

Orang Ulu National Association Miri (OUNA) chairman Pete Kallang said: “As one of those affected I just can’t understand this injustice and this outrageous and abusive exploitation.

“Why, it could be seen as an act in complete disregard for our well-being and opinion.

“This could be proven by the priority given to the preparatory construction activities done even before the proper Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are completed or perhaps not even started and made accessible to affected and interested parties.

“In doing this, it seems the construction of the dam is to be implemented whatever the findings or recommendations that would eventually be available if and when the EIA or SIA is done,” he said.


9 September 2011

14 year land rights battle around the Bakun Dam lost, but not all is lost!

 Two historic cases concening land rights in the Baram Dam area were lost last week, but the judge’s comments provide hope for the future. (For background on the case, see the article below.)

As council for the plaintiffs, Baru Bian, put in a statement about the cases, 

“I was very hopeful to have a historic judgment but that did not materialized. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the said decision there is still a bright light at the end of the tunnel especially in the obiter or the observation made by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum who said that section 5 of the Land Code, Sarawak, appears to give a very wide power to the relevant Minister to extinguish all customary land rights just by a stroke of a pen. He also commented that compensation for the loss of native customary rights should not be merely a monetary form but should include other factors as well. Of a concern to us who are natives is this; that any extinguishment of NCR land in Sarawak must be consistent with international requirements; for example those that are stated under the United Nation Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which requires a “free, prior, informed, consent” approach before their NCR is extinguished.”

Baru Bian Statement on Bato Bagi case

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (friends of the Earth Malaysia) & the Consumers’ Association of Penang said in a statement that:

“SAM and CAP feel that it is important to have a limitation on the purposes for which native customary rights may be extinguished. Of primary importance is that the proposed purpose should be beneficial to the natives. Equally important is also the need that before any land is taken for such purpose, natives must be consulted and properly informed of the consequences of such development and sufficiently and reasonably compensated for the loss to their communities and future generations.”

For more information on dams in Borneo, please visit:


Articles from last year

No Dam for the Baram: Powerful statement from the chairman of the Orang Ulu Association in Miri

This press statement was released on the 29th of August,  2011. 

“Flood from the dam and the infrastructure associated with the construction will definitely bring irreparable damage to the whole environment. It will destroy a heritage for which all Malaysian or human race should respect and harness.”

For more information on mega-dams in Borneo, please visit:


Besides the colossal environmental devastation and severe consequence on the ecosystem that the dreadful Baram Dam will bring, it will also rage a permanent degeneration of the ethnic identity and heritage of the populaces who live in the region. Based on the number of villagers, the most affected are the Kenyah followed by the Kayan and Penan population. These are also the same majority groups of people who are most affected by the Bakun Dam which was just commissioned. The same like it was done in Bakun, the decision in building the Baram Dam seems to be in total disregard for all those who area affected. It is built for the benefit of others rather than those who live in Baram and for the long term good of the Baram.

As one of those affected I just can’t understand this injustice and this outrageous and abusive exploit. This seems to be a senseless exploitation which is primarily driven by avarice coupled with immorality. For us who are directly and adversely affected parties, no one can blame us in thinking that this is a calculated, intentional and purposeful manoeuvre to wipe out our races. Why it could be seen as an act in complete disregard for our wellbeing and opinion could be proven by the priority given to the preparatory construction activities done even before the proper Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are completed or perhaps not even started and made accessible to affected and interested parties. In doing this, it seems the construction of the dam is to be implemented whatever the findings or recommendation would eventually be available if and when the EIA or SIA is done.
The Baram is the least developed part of Sarawak and arguably the least developed area in the whole of Malaysia. So far, the only so called “development” which are seen in Baram are the colossal and exhaustive exploitation or extraction of the Baram natural resources; these are like reckless harvestings of the timber, extraction of lime stone, sand dredging, vast oil palm plantations and now the dam for hydropower electrical generation. So far, practically all the beneficiaries of these so called developments are big companies owned by big tycoons from outside the Baram. Most of the workers employed at these facilities are also from outside Baram and a lot of them are foreigners. So to say that these “development” bring employment is a fantasy. Like all the past exploitation of the Baram resources there is little doubt that employment spin-off from the proposed dam is “just a pie in the sky” for the Baramites. As seen at the construction stage of the Bakun and Murum dams, the locals are not employed in significant numbers during the construction or their involvement in the operations after completion of the construction. We do not see how the dam can bring significant economic opportunities for the locals.

Recently, I had a conversation with the headman from one of the village which is within the proposed reservoir area of the Baram Dam. He criticised those who do not plant rubber or not building new longhouse for fear that these would be flooded when the dam is completed; he said that he did not believe that the government would build such a dam. He said that if such a dam was to be built, the government would have already been busy consulting the affected people and getting their consent. The reaction by this particular headman reflects the effectiveness of the discreet process practiced in building the dam. The dam construction although it will affect a lot of people, at the moment is one dark secret kept away from those living in Baram. If it is occasionally mentioned by the proponents, the subject would be down-played, watered-down with downright euphemism. However, the reality as we learnt from newspaper reports and information dripping from the project supporters speaks of an affected area covering 38,900 hectares (389 sq km) or ½ the size of Singapore Island. It will be constructed of around 180 metres above seal level and will generate 1,200 MW of electrical power. So, with these realities no one can blame the fear which was noted by the headman. This fear is shared by many in the whole of Baram whether they are living above or below the proposed dam site.

At least 90% of the land mass which will be flooded by the dam’s reservoir will be the Native Customary Rights land (NCR). The foreseeable fiasco resulting from this will no doubt be contributed by the now famous government’s interpretation of NCR which differ from that of the native’s custom (Adat). The native’s interpretation is recognised by the judiciary as proven by the various court cases where the native claimants have won. This will again result in more cases of dissatisfaction among the people affected. With the single mindedness of the government in constructing the dam, the people, for whom they are supposed to bring development, will unavoidably be marginalised. For the Orang Ulu their very survival from generation to generation has been based on the land. They are basically farmers and gatherers. To disregard this fact would be to purposefully disorientated and thus destroy the harmonious way of life. Flood from the dam and the infrastructure associated with the construction will definitely bring irreparable damage to the whole environment. It will destroy a heritage for which all Malaysian or human race should respect and harness.

Relocation of the people to make way for the Baram Dam will definitely result in a permanent social damage. The Kenyah and Kayan people traditionally live in longhouses. Even the very structures of the longhouses are traditional in nature, reflecting the social structure of the communities and thus keeping the Kenyah and Kayan together from time immemorial, enabling them to face famine, wars, epidemics and natural tragedies. These structures are delicate and are now facing a lot of challenges from modern lifestyles and globalisation. Mass relocation of the people will no doubt spell the end of the traditional social structure.

In the traditional Kenyah and Kayan community, each longhouse normally comprise a group of people who are of the same dialect. For the Kenyah they could be Lepo Tau, Badeng, Lepo Aga, Jamuk, Long Sebatu etc. For the Kayan they could be Uma Baluvah, Uma Kelep, Uma Pu etc. The people of each dialect have from generation to generation, their bonds to each other make it possible for them to live in a family like attitude towards one another. Even in the face of large rural-urban migration, the Kenyah and Kayan consider their ancestral villages as their real home. They maintain their houses in the Baram and they normally go back on festive occasions like Pusau Anak, Christmas or Suen. Relocation of the people for the dam would also pose a direct challenge to this bond that is part of the social structure.

The social structure of the dam will not bring development but severe and permanent damage to the whole environment and the people. Development must be for the immediate and long term good of all the people with minimal, repairable or no damage to the environment. The decision for major project like the construction of massive dams should be made by the people. It must be a collective decision, which is made based on well informed decision. The people must know the pros and cons of the dam. Information must be made available freely to them and only after that can they decide. So looking at the proposed Baram Dam, none of these are met. Baram Dam is not required to bring development to Baram.

Press Statement release by:
Peter N. J. Kallang
Chairman Orang Ulu National Association Miri (OUNA)
Chairman Persatuan Kenyah Association Miri
 For more information, please contact Peter Kallang 013-8331104, Philip Jau 016-8597738

Taken from

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) not seeking free, prior and informed consent from affected Baram communities to build proposed dam

Miri: Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) refutes the CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), Torstein Dale Sjotveit’s claim that SEB has conducted studies on the area for the proposed Baram dam legally with proper, free and fair consultation of the affected communities, as reported on the 20th of July, 2012 in the Borneo Post.
“It is disappointing that the CEO OF SEB thinks that three days in one area, is a sufficient period for an informed consultation with thousands of indigenous peoples who will be severely affected by the construction of the dam,” Peter Kallang, Chairperson of SAVE Rivers has said.
“Since the news leak of the construction of Baram dam about four years ago, we have been constantly on the ground, visiting over 30 of the affected longhouses, to see their views on the Baram dam. Based on our extensive consultations spanning over three years, we have concluded that most of the inhabitants do not want the dam,” Peter Kallang emphasized.
Peter Kallang expressed regret that while the three-day consultation could be seen as a first, yet meagre step to consult with the communities, the people themselves were not allowed to voice out their concerns in a fair, appropriate space.
“We [SAVE Rivers] were there at that so called consultation which was tied to the ceremony “Mayau Daleh”, and we were dismayed that the former Penghulu of Long Naah was not allowed a chance to speak. We witnessed Senator Lihan Jok publicly using the public addressing system told the former penghulu, not to talk.” Peter Kallang said.
Philip Jau, Chairman of Baram People Action Committee, supported this claim, and added, “we also heard Temenggong Pahang Ding telling the people to be quiet when people shouted their discontent. It was very shocking to see that the people were not given the right to be heard.”
According to the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that Malaysia is a signatory of, the government has a duty-bound responsibility to gain free, prior, and informed consent from indigenous peoples for development projects.
The conditions include, “consultations must not try to coerce indigenous people to agree, the government must give indigenous communities all the information they need to make their decision, indigenous communities should be given enough time to discuss their concerns and should not be rushed into making a decision, consultations should only end when indigenous communities and the government come to an agreement.”
“According to what we understand of the free, prior and informed consent process of UNDRIP, we can safely say that these conditions have not been respected by SEB and the Sarawak government, in terms of seeking agreement from the communities to build the proposed Baram dam,” Peter Kallang said.
SAVE Rivers has since collected thousands of signatures from over 20 affected communities, for a petition saying no to the proposed Baram dam. These petitions have been sent to the Sarawak Energy Berhad, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, the Member of Parliament and State Assembly Representative of Baram, and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
“We also have collected and mailed thousands of postcards to the Chief Minster, asking for the dam not to be built, and have solicited many signatures through online petitions,” Philip Jau said.
“I have personally handed a letter to the Prime Minister last year, and to the Deputy Prime Minister in April this year, saying that the communities do not want the dam,” Philip Jau added.
“Not all demonstrations are organized by NGO’s, indicating that many communities are rising up against the planned construction of Baram dam. An example of this is the recent anti-Baram dam protest in Miri this early June,” explained Peter Kallang.
The latest twist showing the people’s opposition to the Baram dam are the police reports made in connection with it. In the first report, Ding Ngau of Long Na’ah complained about the illegal intrusion by the SEB workers on his land to carry out drilling in the ground. The second report made was from Dorus Katan Juman reproving the statement which says that the Baram people agreed to the Baram dam as untrue. Dorus was referring to a press report made at a meeting by a group of community leaders with the Deputy Chief Minister led by Temegong Pahang Ding, where the Temegong was quoted as making the statement.
“We hope that the Sarawak government and Sarawak Energy Berhad would respect the communities that they claim to represent, by following the free, prior and informed consent process as listed out by UNDRIP. Hopefully, they would then get a clearer picture of the development needs that the people are asking for, which does not include building a mega-dam that would destroy their ancestral and farmlands,” Peter Kallang concluded.
Press Statement Release by:
Ms. June Rubis
Date: 20th June 2012
Note to editors: SAVE Rivers is a coalition of eight local indigenous NGOs, formed in late 2011 to stop the construction of the planned mega-dams in Sarawak, and to promote alternative development needs of the affected communities.