Sarawak activist who stopped destructive mega-dams wins 2019 Seacology Prize

Peter Kallang (middle) with Duane Silverstein (L) and Mary Randolph (R) from SEACOLOGY during the award presentation.

Miri City, Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Malaysia. Peter Kallang, a member of Sarawak’s indigenous Kenyah community, has been awarded the international Seacology Prize for leading a successful campaign to halt the building of a series of mega-dams on Borneo. The dams would have flooded vast tracts of land, including pristine rainforests, and dislocated tens of thousands of indigenous people. The Seacology Prize is awarded annually to a person who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

The Malaysian state of Sarawak is home to some of the world’s most critically endangered and biodiverse forests. Indigenous communities, including the Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan, who have lived in harmony with their environments for generations, now face encroachment by timber companies and palm oil plantations. A huge threat came from Sarawak’s largest-ever industrialisation project for 12 mega-dams – the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE). The SCORE plan included the Baram dam, which would have, without consent or consultation, displaced 20,000 Kenyah people and flooded 400 square kilometers of rainforest.

In 2011, when he was 61, Kallang, a lifelong campaigner for the people of Sarawak and previously a Shell engineer became the Chairman of Save Rivers, a Sarawak NGO. He immediately focused on stopping the Baram dam. With the support of community leaders, he galvanized protests and demonstrations, including river flotillas in towns and remote rural areas. The largest of these protests were two concurrent two-year blockades. One blockade prevented the building of the access road to the proposed site of the Baram dam, and the other stopped all preconstruction at the site. Simultaneously, Kallang was raising awareness and building coalitions internationally, and confronting investor audiences in Australia and Norway.

Kallang also enlisted experts to prove to government and international funders that a better future lay with small-scale renewable energy projects, which would provide long-term community and environment benefits, rather than mass displacement and environmental destruction. In 2016, the government capitulated, and the Baram dam and SCORE were cancelled.

Duane Silverstein, Seacology’s Executive Director, said, “Peter Kallang is a disciplined, passionate and thoughtful leader. He is a committed activist and a courageous champion of indigenous rights who has endured attacks to his reputation, risks to his freedom, and even rifts within his own family and friends because of his outspoken position against destructive development. His approach and courage are an inspiration to all island communities seeking to protect their lands and ways of life.”

Current work and fears for the future

Kallang and Save Rivers are now focusing on renewable energy for Sarawak, partnering with pioneers in sustainable, alternative energy systems to bring clean energy to villages. Seacology is one of those partners. Earlier this year, Kallang spoke at a ceremony in the Sarawak village of Long Liam, where a micro-hydro system, built with support from Seacology, Save Rivers, and others, was officially handed over to villagers. The villagers, who had fought the Baram dam, stressed that such successful micro-

hydro projects prove that rural development is possible without enormously destructive dams. These projects also help preserve Borneo’s precious forests, because logging would damage the watersheds necessary for micro-hydro systems to work.

In March 2019, Save Rivers hosted Sarawak’s first community-based conference on electricity generation. There were more than 300 participants, including representatives from both national and state politics (together for the first time), and over 50 community leaders from across Sarawak. Save Rivers is also supporting the Penan community to map and apply for community control over an expansive, incredibly biodiverse region in northern Sarawak – also for the first time in Sarawak’s history.

Meanwhile, Kallang fears that Sarawak’s mega-dam plans could be revived by the new cash-strapped Sarawak government. The Trusan mega-dam was announced in 2017. Kallang came out in opposition at the time, saying that construction of these new dams would be a contravention of previous government policy and would be wildly in excess of projected energy needs. Nothing very much has been heard since, but the government began building roads to the site of the proposed Baleh dam in 2018 with an anticipated completion date of 2025. The completion of the Baleh dam is thought to be a precursor to the commencement of work on the Trusan dam.

Meanwhile in neighboring Sabah, communities are campaigning right now against the Papar dam, which will displace indigenous communities with similar human rights implications to the Baram dam. Kallang is supporting this campaign.

Peter Kallang said: “I am truly honored to receive the Seacology Prize. It comes at a time when the spotlight of attention needs to return to the destruction and social injustice that lie at the heart of mega- dams in Sarawak and the Island of Borneo, while we continue to demonstrate the value of sustainable community-based renewable energy projects.”

About Seacology and the Seacology Prize

Seacology is a nonprofit organization in Berkeley, California that works to preserve the habitats and cultures of islands around the world. Many island communities face a choice between protecting their natural resources and pursuing economic development. Seacology’s win-win approach recognizes gives islanders an economic incentive to preserve their resources. When an island community wants to protect a forest or marine area, Seacology offers a grant that will benefit the whole community—for example, a school, ecotourism center, or water system. With more than 300 projects in 60 countries, Seacology has helped preserve almost 1.5 million acres of marine and land habitats. Seacology was awarded a 2019 United Nations Momentum for Change award for its climate change work, and has been nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

The $10,000 Seacology prize, now in its 29th year, is awarded annually to a person who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

SAVE Rivers chief wins Seacology prize

Peter Kallang (seated, far left) with SEACOLOGY, friends and families who have supported him throughout the years.

MIRI: United States non-profit organisation Seacology has selected SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang as the winner of its annual US$10,000 prize.

The prize is awarded to an islander for exceptional achievement in preserving the environment and culture of his or her home country.

Peter is the first Sarawakian and second Malaysian to win the prize.

In 2004, Sabahan Adrian Lasimbang, who is today a senator, was the Malaysian to win the prize.

The prize is underwritten by Seacology president Ken Murdock in honour of his mother Lalovi Fish Murdock.

For other media coverage on Peter’s SEACOLOGY award, kindly click the links below:

We don’t want you to give a “dam”

*We don’t want you to give a “dam”, Sabah indigenous peoples tells Putrajaya*

PUTRAJAYA, 5 September 2019: Representatives from 9 villages which will be affected by the construction of the Papar dam in Sabah, marched to Putrajaya today to appeal to the Prime Minister to help stop the construction of the dam.

The group is representing the Taskforce Against Kaiduan Dam (TAKAD) which have been protesting the construction of the Kaiduan dam since the project was mooted 10 years ago. The project has since been rebranded as the Papar Dam.

“We voted for Pakatan Harapan during the 2018 elections because scraping the dam was one of the election promises. Imagine our shock and devastation this year when they announced that the dam project is back on, this time rebranded as Papar dam,” Diana Sipail, chairperson of TAKAD, said.

“We appeal to our Prime Minister to step in and hold our Warisan-led state government accountable for their election promises, and not let them be reduced to a rebrand of our former government. We also seek the federal government’s intervention since the 2018 corruption case involving the State Water Department arising from the lack of transparent and inclusive process on the alleged water crisis is said to be the reason for the dam. We are in the dark and not consulted on the project to date and it’s necessity where every decision is decided privately. Is the project really for the rakyat or just for profit of the interested parties?

“They (Sabah state government) have demonstrated that protecting the rights of the indigenous people of Ulu Papar is not in their interest. Reviving the mega-dam project puts us at risk of losing our traditions, culture and our rich free environment which we’ve inherited over generations and important for our livelihood,” she added.

The dam, if constructed, will not only displaced over 3,000 indigenous villagers but also destroy the Crocker Range, which was declared a Crocker Range Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) in 2014.

The group’s many appeals to the state government this year have fallen on deaf ears.

At Putrajaya, TAKAD handed a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s office as well as to the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC).

The memorandum questions the need of the mega dam since RM170 million has already been allocated by the Federal Government to reduce Sabah’s Non-Revenue Water (NRW or unaccounted-for-water) from 52% to 20% (“RM170 mln to address NRW issue” Borneo Post, 31 October 2018).

TAKAD also appealed for other solutions to be considered which have less negative impact towards the environment and local communities, such as building smaller and natural water catchments.

“The Crocker Range is not only an important biosphere but also our customary land in which the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) requires that we give Free, Prior and Informed consent (FPIC) to any project that may affect us or our territories,” Sipail explained.

“We would like to reiterate that we stand firm on our decision. It is the same 10 years ago as it is now, we do not want the dam,” she stressed.

“Upholding the dignity of our ancestors is our responsibility, and not something to be pawned under the namesake of development. Sabah is a state blessed with indigenous people and flora and fauna that we all should preserve and protect for generations to come.”

“We obey by the rules and regulations set by the government, in turn, we hope that they listen to the voice of the people and look into sustainable alternatives instead of building the mega dam,” she added.

TAKaD is also organizing a public forum tonight (5 Sept), 8PM at KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall –

For more info please refer to provided link:
or Contact Diana at (016-8357190) / Nelson Raymond (016-9974589)

Kenyataan Media –
Ringkasan Memo –
Memorandum (full) –
Photo for Press –

Save Rivers pledges support for Suhakam to be more pro-active in Sarawak

MIRI: SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang says he has previously by-passed Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) office in Sarawak as its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur was more pro-active and responsive.

So he is looking forward to a new chapter in the state under newly minted Commissioner Dr Madeline Berma as he expressed his support and hope that it will be more pro-active in promoting and educating the people on human rights.

“Do not just sit in the office waiting for complaints to be lodged,” he said in his response to Madeline’s statement expressing surprise at the lack of reports received by Suhakam in Sarawak previously.

Suhakam, he said, should organise courses and workshops to educate the general public, especially the civil society organisations, on human rights issues. These include labour, women, racial problems and government policies issues affecting the people.

“ They should be in touch with people on the ground, “ he added.

Relating his experience, he said the Suhakam headquarters in Kuala Lumpur is more pro-active and had worked with him in many cases in the state previously.

Madeline had expressed surprise at the small number of complaints received by Suhakam from Sarawak in 2018 as a cause for concern. In an interview with online news portal FMT, she wondered if the scenario was due to either there was nothing for Sarawakians to complain about or they were not aware of Suhakam’s existence. She said the main responsibilities of Suhakam were to protect and to promote human rights, and found it disturbing that cases on land issues were not reported to Suhakam Sarawak.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was established by Parliament under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Act 597. The Act was gazetted on 9 September 1999.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Musa Hitam was appointed the first chairman of the commission which held its inaugural meeting on 24 April 2000.

Madeline was announced as one of the commissioners in June this year with Tan Sri Othman Hashim as the fifth chairman, taking over the baton from Tan Sri Razali Ismail.


The article, “Some activists are preying on the Penans, says state rep” as reported in Free Malaysia Today (FMT) is far from the truth. Activist and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) fulfill needs in environmental, economic, infrastructure and social justice which are either neglected or abused by parties concerned.

The responsibility for the construction of infrastructure and providing public amenities lies with the government. For that reason, the government imposes tax on the public and establishes government departments that handle the various sectors of the public services. The elected representatives of the state legislative (DUN) and parliament or the government of the day are the ones who decide where and when the infrastructure should be built. There is no denying that rural Sarawak is the most underdeveloped areas in the whole Malaysia, despite the fact that Sarawak is rich with natural resources and human capital. The failure of bringing infrastructure and development lies with the government. The CSOs in Sarawak are mostly engaged in advocacy and minor rural projects generally on issues related to land, rivers and indigenous rights. Commenting on the situation, Penan leader Komeok Joe said “Why blame CSOs for helping the Penan? …Dennis Ngau promised to Long Sait that he would repair the hanging bridge. The Penan were waiting for a few years for Dennis to fulfill his promise but he failed to do so. So the public and CSOs help build Long Sait a new bridge.” 

The majority of activists working for CSO are either volunteers (no salary) or are paid nominal amount of living allowance. This is why there is an acute scarcity of dedicated and competent youth in Sarawak willing to serve in the CSOs. A lot of them spend time consulting, discussing and working with the Penans and other indigenous communities in the villages and rural settlements. These activists are “walking the talk” in actual sense. In saying that the CSOs are taking advantage of the Penans for their own benefit shows that YB Dennis Ngau does not know what is happening on the ground.

CSOs fight for the rights of the people when the government fails in this regard. Harrison Ngau, a prominent lands right lawyer and activist since the 1980s in commenting said, “Not only the Penans but other Bumiputras like the Malays, Melanaus and Dayaks have also lost their rights to customary right land, continued to suffer highest rate of poverty and environmental destructions as a result of policies and laws of the Sarawak government.”

Mark Bujang, who is a qualified geologist by training and an indigenous right activist for more than 20 years, said, “(YB) Dennis should not be making sweeping statements but name the CSO whom he claims to be taking advantage of the Penans”Thomas Jalong a the Secretary General of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) said “NGOs that we are involved in usually raise funds for capacity building programs to empower the marginalised communities and help in advocacy work for them.” END OF RELEASE 


Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, recent statement saying that “Sarawak is reaping the benefit” from the controversial Bakun dam is a lopsided remark. This remark could be based on publicity stunt by the Sarawak state government and Sarawak Energy Bhd. without taking into account the long standing problems and complaints of the indigenous peoples affected by the project.

The Bakun dam submerged an area of 700 sq. km of forest, farm land and villages. 10,000 indigenous community members from fifteen villages were displaced and resettled in Sungai Asap. In Sungai Asap, most of them are still struggling to eke out a living while in their original villages they had vast land for farming, hunting and foraging. But in Sungai Asap each family was only given three acres of  farm land. This is not enough to sustain a living, especially since much of the land is rocky, sloped and sandy. On top of that, many plots of the land are inaccessible since there were no roads and having very difficult terrain.

The government promised that the Bakun dam would bring job opportunities, improved standard of living and development however, they remained as empty promises. Despite of the many formal complaints and grumbling from the people that seem to go unnoticed and unheard. In the recent press conference by the state assemblyman for Belaga, Datuk Liwan Lagang, who is also the Assistant Minister of Water Supply and assemblyman for Murum, YB Kennedy Chukpai Ugon, they lament the slow pace development at Belaga district even now after more than 20 years since the construction of the Bakun dam, followed by the Murum dam in 2014.

As reported in Dayak Daily on the 20th May 2019, the minister Datuk Liwan Lagang said, “We are lighting up Sarawak and yet we (those living below Bakun dam) don’t have electricity. What we want is 101 percent (coverage). Other places, like Bau, is already having 97 percent coverage of 24-hour electricity supply from the grid, while Belaga town is the only town in Sarawak not connected to the grid,”

Commenting on the Kaiduan/Papar dam, SAVE Rivers chairman, Mr. Peter Kallang said, “In any mega project which is affecting the environment, properties and people the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as stated in the United Nation Declaration on Right of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be seriously observed. Any social and environmental wellbeing must never be compromised by economic objectives.”

“Why should they build a mega dam when Sabah recorded high amount of rainfall, Mount Emas and the Crocker Range as natural reservoir, supplying water to the Papar river which never runs dry. It does not make sense unless the government is trying to harvest the timber on the hills at the proposed site.” commented, Mr. Jackly Likinsim, a local from Kampung Biusang, Papar.

Clean Energy Collaboration Kuching agrees on way forward for renewable energy in Sarawak

Kuching 15-16 March: After two days of discussions and panels between ministers, government officials, community members, civil society organizations, and industry experts, the resulting message of the Clean Energy Collaboration is clear: Malaysia has an incredible opportunity to lead the renewable energy transformation in the region, and communities around Malaysia are already leading the way. 

The event saw Ministers and Deputy Ministers speaking bluntly about Sarawak’s obligations to defend its land against destructive industries such as mega-dams, as well as the Federal government’s role in ensuring Sarawak invests in local clean energy systems to eliminate energy poverty. All stakeholders agreed that now is the time for Sarawak and Malaysia to ramp up its investment in small scale renewables and to collaborate with indigenous communities in the process. 

Deputy Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change YB Isnaraissah Munirah Majili opened the event by committing to this approach: “We are interested in working with communities and listening to all stakeholders, to create the most effective projects and have reliable energy from the Petronas Towers to the Kampungs. Large dams can only serve as very last resort after having explored all other options for energy generation.”

The Deputy Minister also reaffirmed Minister YB Yeo Bee Yin’s international commitment to reducing Malaysia’s emissions by 35% by 2030, as well as Malaysia’s renewable energy target of 20% by 2030. Local and international energy experts were quick to point out that neither of these targets will be met if large scale destructive energy projects continue to be pursued by the Sarawak government. 

Professor Daniel Kammen from the University of California, Berkeley spoke frankly about the need for Sarawak to end mega-hydro projects: “With the world turning to green energy, Sarawak can choose clean energy and community health, or it can stay with environmentally destructive mega-dams that cost more, employ less and turn away green energy investors from Malaysia.”

The transition to renewables was framed not only as a moral and social imperative, but as an economic opportunity. Former Australian Senator Christine Milne’s keynote address asserted: “The off the shelf technology now exists at a price that makes it financially attractive to decouple the generation of energy from fossil fuels and mega-dams. You can now bring electricity to people wherever they live at an affordable price and without damage to the environment.”

Deputy Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change YB Isnaraissah Munirah Majili stated that Malaysia can be a regional and international renewable energy leader: “We can not only set new standards for renewable energy in the region but build an industry that will be able to support other countries down the road. This leadership is not only the right thing to do, but will create many new opportunities for business development, entrepreneurship, research and technological leaps. We are excited to be part of the clean energy revolution that is taking place around the world.”

Crucially, indigenous communities who have been directly impacted by large scale energy projects were present at the meeting. More than 50 delegates from Belaga and Baram shared their experience implementing successful renewable energy projects, spearheading micro-hydro systems in remote areas in partnership with civil society organizations. These communities have built and maintained their own systems despite facing displacement from mega-hydro projects. They are showing that community engagement is cleaner and more effective than mega energy projects that bypass remote and rural communities, destroy rainforests and displace local communities.