KUCHING: All sorts of woes are bedevilling the people living on their “jelatong” houses which are floating on the Bakun dam lake. Their woes range from a foul smell emanating from rotting organic matter submerged at the bottom of the dam to the river’s declining biodiversity and lack of safe drinking water.
The foul rotten egg-like smell is indicative of the presence of hydrogen sulfide and reports of high turbidity and low pH levels are killing off fish life in the dam and tributaries.
Highlighting these woes during his budget speech, Ba’Kelalan assemblyman, Baru Bian, said that he made a four-day trip to Bakun recently to see for himself how the people have fared since their displacement to make way for the dam.
“I was dismayed at the shocking sights that greeted me and the sorry stories told to me by the people living on their ‘jelatong’ houses now floating on the lake.
“The water on which their homes float is foul-smelling due to the rotting organic matter submerged at the bottom of the dam. Downstream from the dam, the river’s biodiversity has degenerated, fish catches have fallen, and once-clean waters smell foul and are unsafe to drink.
“In a paper entitled ‘Physio-chemical Characteristics in the Filling Phase of Bakun Hydroelectric Reservoir, Sarawak, Malaysia’ published in the International Journal of Applied Science and Technology this year, the authors confirmed that the strong rotten egg smell in the water indicated the presence of hydrogen sulfide.
“They also report high turbidity and low pH levels, which are detrimental to fish life in the dam and tributaries. The fall in the fish numbers affects the people negatively, as fish is one of the sources of food that is still free,” said Bian, who is also the Sarawak PKR chairman.
He added that as a result, the villagers are also now without clean water supply even though they are living on a huge expanse of water.
“There are signs warning them against drinking or swimming in the water because of the risk of Melioidosis and Leptospirosis. Water is life and water was once freely available to them from the previously clean rivers, even if they had no piped water.
“Now it is a case of ‘water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink,” said Bian.
Compensations in dispute
He also pointed out that there were no public toilets in the bazaar at Sungai Asap and locals were forced to go to the bushes to ease themselves.
“Also, the promised compensations of replacement housing, jobs, compensation payments, three acres of land per family, etc have hardly materialised or still in dispute.
“Their experiences are not dissimilar to those of earlier resettlement schemes such as those at Batang Ai. This is a clear reflection of the government’s attitude towards the poorest of the poor of the land – a ‘tidak apa’ and ‘what they never had, they won’t miss’ attitude,” Bian said.
He said given these problems and the recent blockade of the Murum dam by the Penans to highlight their complaints of the government’s violation of UNDRIP and the Equator Principles, it not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that the state government was not fair, transparent and accountable to the affected indigenous communities.
“And yet we call it development to achieve a high-income economy – at the expense of the true ‘Bumiputeras’ of this land.
“The proposed Baram dam will displace more than 20,000 people from their ancestral lands and submerge 26 villagers. The least the government can do is to learn from the mistakes from the other dams and listen to the people for a change.
“Accusing the opposition and NGOs of incitement is not a solution to problems that are real. Telling the Penans to accept change to be progressive is arrogantly brushing aside their fears without listening to their concerns,” he said.