Miri — Local civil society organization SAVE Rivers asserts that large-scale
hydropower cannot be considered a source of renewable energy for Sarawak
because of its destructive impact on the environment and on Indigenous
communities. This is in response to the statements of Sarawak Energy Bhd
(SEB) vice president Ting Ching Zung during a panel discussion on November
24th at the ASEAN conference, as reported by Bernama.
“We are worried to hear that SEB is promoting mega dams again,” says
James Nyurang of Tanjung Tepalit, Baram, one of the communities that would
have been inundated by the Baram dam. “We were so happy that SEB finally
focused on community needs with their solar SARES project that really
improved the quality of life in our villages, this is the development we want.
Dams, however, are not development but destruction.”
The global impacts of mega dams are well documented. A 2016 study found
hydroelectric dams emit a billion tons of greenhouse gasses a year—about
1.3 percent of human-caused global emissions. Behind every great dam is a
great reservoir and at the bottom of a tropical dam reservoir, methane – a
potent greenhouse gas, is produced. This contributes as much to global heating
as the aviation industry.
A study has also shown that building mega dams does not make economic sense in the tropics.
As for the proposed Baram hydropower dam which was
shelved by the late Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Sri Tan Sri Haji Adenan bin
Haji Satem in 2015, there was a study conducted by the University of
California at Berkeley that found no evidence of economic benefit of the dam.
Instead, it found that Sarawak’s scheduled dams then would be a net drag on
the economy, and generate energy far in excess of projected needs. With the
Bakun and Murum dams running well below capacity, Sarawak is already a
literal powerhouse with ample capacity for energy generation from existing
The late Adenan Satem also stated in an interview with Channel News Asia in
May 2016, that the reason for scrapping the Baram dam in the state was that
there was no need to have another big dam: “We can have mini dams and so
on, but not big dams especially when we don’t supply (power) to West
“If Sarawak energy wanted to test our reactions with their statement, we can
tell them: The people of Baram are ready to fight anytime if SEB wants to
revive its outdated dam plans. Adenan would be sad to see his legacy treated
like this,” stressed Peter Kallang from SAVE Rivers.
Besides the multitude of research and evidence that document the
destructiveness of a large scale hydropower project, its effect is felt the most
on the ground.
Michael Jok, secretary general of SCRIPS (Society for Rights of Indigenous
People of Sarawak) asked, “Why plan to build new mega dams when what
they did previously was not ‘justly implemented’ to those who were affected
and people are still complaining all over the place? Few people are made rich
at the expense of IP in Sarawak. Is this what SEB calls renewable energy to
One of the members of the displaced communities in the Bakun dam area,
Alexander Lehan from Uma Nyaving laments that until today they are living in
the irreversible impact the project has on their culture and livelihood. For
generations, the rich rainforest surrounding the communities were their natural
source for food and their indigenous practices. Today, since all the
resettlement long houses are built in close proximity with one another, the
shrunken rainforest can no longer sustain the needs of the communities.
SAVE Rivers supports and empowers rural communities to protect their land,
rivers, and watersheds through capacity building, networking, research,
education, and advocacy.
Below is the list of press coverage on SAVE Rivers responds.
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