Baram dam is like a double-edged sword to Baram natives

COMMENT: The issue of the proposed Baram dam to more than 100,000 natives of Baram is like an Iban saying “dipakai mati apai, enda dipakai mati indai” (literally it means that if you eat it, your father will die, and if you do not eat it your mother will die).

In other words, the Baram natives are between the devil and the deep blue sea. The dam is like a double-edged sword to them.

If they accept the dam, it will mean that 20,000 people who are directly affected will lose everything – their livelihood and their centuries-old civilisation; they will have to be moved out and to be relocated elsewhere where the future is uncertain; some 38,900ha of their ancestral land will be submerged under water together with more than 30 longhouses and villages, churches, schools and clinics.

Even if a road is built to the project site, how could these people enjoy the benefits when they are being located far away from the dam area?

Perhaps in their new resettlements, they will begin a new life. From what they have seen to the displaced settlers of Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum dams, they are not convinced. Too many promises not fulfilled, creating only miseries after miseries.

They know for a fact that forced resettlement is hardly ever fair and fulfilling for those affected.

But their refusal to accept the dam means there will be no development as Chief Minister Adenan Satem hinted to the Baram natives.

“There have been many protests and blockades by the people who voiced their disagreement to the building of the Baram dam. If you don’t want the dam, fine. We will respect your decision.

“I hope you understand the impact for refusing it, as you will be missing out related projects which are beneficial such as roads and other necessities,” Adenan was quoted as saying last week.

Adenan said that “one day, you will find that not building the dam has given some disadvantage and as a result of this, you suffer. That is in your own hand. It is your decision.”

It means that Baram will remain undeveloped; due to its vastness and difficult terrains, it has not seen much development in the past 52 years, and it looks like it is going to be undeveloped as long as there is no Baram dam.

While welcoming the announcement by Adenan that the proposed "Baram dam project is halted indefinitely", the majority of them still demand a total stop to the project before they are convinced that the government is honestly listening to their plea.

The natives also want all loggings at those areas to be stopped immediately. Only after such actions are taken would the Baram folks accept it as a significant gesture.

Adenan SatemAdenan Satem
Otherwise the resistance against the Baram HEP dam is indisputable. This is proven by their continuous protest actions including the blockades to the dam site and the construction of its access road.

In his reaction to Adenan’s statement, the chairman of SAVE Rivers Sarawak Peter Kallang said that building infrastructures and ensuring public amenities is a government’s essential function.

“These infrastructures and amenities must be built with or without the Baram dam. If the government neglects this duty, it just proves they have failed their basic role as a government.

“So dangling the development carrot to lure support for the Baram dam is mischievous and contemptuous. If the Sarawak government is able to bring a lot of development to Bario, which is so remote in the highlands and further from any big town than any village in Baram, what is it that stops them from developing Baram?

“Must the Baram basin be flooded with water from the dam before the government figures out how to develop it?” he asked.

Sharing Peter’s comment is SPDP senior vice-president Roland Matu who said that the people of Baram are still looking forward to be provided with better infrastructure including improvement of present roads, schools, and clinics even though the state government has decided to suspend the construction of the dam indefinitely.

“It is the basic rights of the people to be provided with infrastructure and other amenities, as they too are citizens of country,” he said.

Now without the Baram dam, the government perhaps should seriously think of a suggestion by the Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau to build an international golf course in the Penan heartland.

He has long been worried over woes faced by the natives in his constituency in the absence of basic amenities, infrastructure and economic activities.

Apparently out of frustration, during the November sitting of the State Legislative Assembly in 2011 he made the suggestion, but all those present at the assembly including the then chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud were grinning ear to ear – they must have thought that it was a crazy idea to build a golf course in the middle of jungle.

The job to build the golf course should go to private sector, he suggested.

Along with the golf course, there could be an airfield, good roads, hotels and chalets and even a CASINO.

Certainly the proposal will create thousands of employment opportunities, including giving the Penans the opportunity to be caddies.

Why not?

-The Ant Daily

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