The people advising Sarawak Energy (SEB), in particular Australia’s Hydro Tasmania, have taken every opportunity to portray the dams planned for Sarawak as a ‘sustainable’ and ‘renewable’ energy source, without bad consequences like fossil fuel.
Hydro Tasmania in fact frequently implies that dams are “carbon neutral” and has declared that the company itself will become a “carbon neutral company” by the end of this year, after decommissioning gas powered electricity plants.
However, representatives of the growing anti-dam movement in Sarawak are touring Australia with a very different story.
They are there to remind anyone soothed by talk of ‘eco-friendly’, ‘clean’, ‘carbon neutral’ dams that the truth is that dams wreak devastation, they are often dirty and unhealthy and they pour out greenhouse gases.
What’s more, after a few decades they cause terrible erosion and silt up, meaning they are no longer ‘renewable’ or ‘sustainable’ after all and have to be expensively dredged, repaired or demolished. What’s sustainable about that, given the RM7 billion price tag on Bakun?
So, is it that Hydro Tasmania do not know their own business when they promote dams in places such as Borneo or are they deliberately trading on the ignorance of people, who do not understand the problems with dams, especially in third world tropical regions?
Visitors to the recently created vast Bakun lake are already sending back horrified reports of the putrid stench rising up from the once pristine waters of the Rajang River, especially in the zone behind the dam itself.
Human rights lawyer and opposition PKR leader Baru Bian, who recently travelled to visit some of the desperate communities refusing to leave the region, says the rotten smell still lingers four hours up river, where these people are clinging to their old homes that are now floating in the water hundreds of feet above where their villages used to be.
Children and their families are existing in dangerous and unhygienic conditions, where once they lived by a productive river that provided all their needs and washed away the dirt and disease:
“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”.[Baru Bian, PKR leader in Sarawak]
Baru has alerted reporters about the terrible impact of the dam and the rotting vegetation on the quality of the water and its effects on the life of the river.
He has detailed how the lake has turned cloudy and acidic, which in turn is in danger of killing off the fish, not just behind the dam, but for many miles down river as the contaminated water comes out of the dam.
Bian expressed his deep concern for the welfare of the very poor communities who live in these areas, including the people downstream of the dam.
He has pointed out that they rely on fish for cheap food and the jungle for other nutrients, which is also being destroyed.
Yet this is no surprise. Rather, it an outcome that experts could easily have predicted and the same problems will happen with all the other mega-dams that Taib is planning to inflict on the country.
The NGO, International Rivers, campaigns against the building of more mega dams for these very reasons and they have repeatedly warned governments like Sarawak why these structures are anything but eco-friendly or carbon neutral, let alone economical sources of energy, as supporters like to proclaim.
Scientific research into large dams has shown just how damaging to people and the environment they are and the idea they can be described as “carbon neutral” and a prevention against global warming is laughable.
In fact dams produce vast quantities of CO2 and the even more damaging gas methane, produced from rotting vegetation. It is this that creates the horrible smell. The other top greenhouse gas is water vapour and dams produce huge amounts of that as well.
It is for this reason that the World Bank, which used to give support to dam building has now decided to step back from financing major dams, especially in hot countries like Sarawak where dams like Bakun can continue to pour out gases not just for one decade but for centuries!
So why, when mega dams do so much harm and produce so much greenhouse gas, do outfits like Hydro Tasmania keep calling them “sustainable energy” and contrast their effects to fossil fuels?
Of course the people of Baram and Murum and Baleh and all the other sites planned for 50 new dams in Sarawak are determined to avoid the same dreadful consequences and their message to Hydro Tasmania is “go away”.
Meanwhile, we ask if the region’s BN MP, Billy Abit Joo has troubled to himself take the four hour trip up river to discover the horrifying conditions in which his constituents are living as a result of this environmental disaster?
Even so, we know that he would never criticise his boss Taib Mahmud over Bakun or anything else, thanks to those fat contracts we exposed him benefitting from, which are worth millions of ringgit [our thanks to a reader who pointed out an earlier erratum. We had mistakenly referred to the wrong crooked BN candidate for this region. The reader reminded us that Jacob Sagan is MP for Baram, which is being threatened by the Baram Dam instead. We have exposed both MPs, but in separate corruption stories].
BMF report – Sold Down The River
The NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has also brought out a major report this week that further points out just how dirty and destructive the dam projects in Sarawak have become.
Shockingly, it reveals that Taib is not just planning to build 12 dams across Sarawak’s once unspoilt rivers but is in fact planning 50 dam sites in the future!
And the reports explains how, as elderly Taib Mahmud sets out on his exciting ‘new’ SCORE project, the rest of the world has concluded that such prestige mega-dam projects are outdated and unproductive.
In fact, research shows that big dams nearly always cost twice as much as predicted and produce half as much electricity as predicted!
Dirtier and dirtier
What is more the report also questions whether this mega-dams project holds any benefit at all for the people of Sarawak?
Hydro Tasmania’s PR and branding advisors claim that SCORE will bring ‘development’ and ‘jobs’. But, in fact there are few plans to bring many of the communities around these projects any of the benefits of water or electricity.
The BMF report explains that instead the infrastructure from the dams is designed around large cables bringing high power straight to the proposed industrial zone of SCORE. There focus is not on domestic supplies to locals.
Just look at the region of Batang Ai, where communities are still deprived of electricity, even 30 years after it was promised at the time of the building of Sarawak’s first dam!
Taib is only interested is in big factories and huge smelters it turns out. He wants foreign companies to bring their filthy, dirty industries into the once clean and beautiful Sarawak, in order to manufacture the sort of polluting materials like aluminium that they do not want to carry out in their own countries for fear of sickness and disease.
Already the Press Metal aluminium factory in Mukah is causing complaints of illness amongst the local people and they say vegetation is dying.
Yet, Taib is excited at the thought of many, many more such factories coming into the region to use the cheap electricity from his 50 dams.
Back in the 1960s 70s when old men like Taib were learning their ‘economics of development’ from places like the Soviet Union, such policies were very much in fashion. But, he clearly has not noticed that command economic models are now widely acknowledged to produce failure, poverty and destruction for local people, or maybe he just does not care?
After all, Taib gets a big fat slice of every deal that is done with these businesses. For him SCORE provides the opportunity to make even more money, just as the construction of dams and the roads and cables are all opportunities for his companies to take big contracts worth millions of ringgit also.
So why should he care about the plight of ordinary people?
No jobs, just imported workers from abroad
None of the local people have got jobs in the new factories being built for SCORE, like Press Metal, because Taib has not bothered with such boring and costly things as education and training for his own people.
The Dayaks have had to sit and watch foreigners come in and earn the money in the factories that occupy their lands.
Ministers have speculated that tens of thousands of foreign workers will be brought into Sarawak from places like India and Pakistan to do the jobs planned for SCORE. These people will live in places like Simulajau, where doubtless homes will be built for them and their families.
What progress does this represent for the people of Sarawak?
On past record it is these foreigners who will be offered their IC cards and voter registration forms, just like in Sabah, while so many local people are still left without their identity rights and access to state assistance, because Taib does not trust their political support.
What perfect sense for Taib these foreign workers would make. This way he can swell the population with a whole new class of thousands of grateful foreigners who will vote for him and keep BN in power for ever, just like the scandalous conspiracy to import faithful foreign workers, which is currently being investigated against BN in Sabah!
There are other ways to tap the power of Sarawak’s rivers and help benefit the people without destroying their life and beauty.
Mini-hydro schemes which cost a fraction of the price of mega dams can be placed to help villages throughout Sarawak to at last receive the water and electricity supplies they need.
Instead of cutting the rural education budget by 80% like BN plans next year in Sarawak, more longhouse people could be trained to teach the children in their own communities.
Roads should be built for communities not logging. And proper clinics should be built and health care provided for mothers and babies. Tourism could be developed and people encouraged to visit Sarawak’s remaining few forests and travel the remaining unspoilt rivers.
There are many ways that development could be introduced, which are designed to improve the lives of the people, rather than making greedy Taib Mahmud even richer that he is already via SCORE.