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: Malaysian dam project will set precedent on how to treat indigenous people



From: Maxine Newlands, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published November 6, 2012 11:31 AM

Malaysian dam project will set precedent on how to treat indigenous people

The controversial Murum dam in Malaysia is the first big overseas project for the China Three Gorges Project Company (CTGC) which is building hydro- and coal-fired power stations in 23 countries. So how it resolves its current conflict with the protesting Penan tribe will set an important precedent as to how other Indigenous people are treated.

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Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo and is covered in ancient rainforest. This pristine oasis is home to many rare species, including the Slow loris, Clouded leopard, eight species of Hornbill as well as the iconic Orang-utang. Logging practices in the Sarawak region have decimated the habitat of these, and thousands of other unique species, and caused irreparable damage to valuable peat lands.

For two months tribal chiefs and villagers in the region have set fire to tyres and put up road blocks to prevent construction lorries from reaching the Murum mega-dam site. The Murum dam, will be Malaysia's largest hydroelectric dam when it opens next year, and is to be situated right in the Sarawak heartland.

As talks hit stalemate between the tribes' elders and the Government, Police Chief DSP Bakar Sebau issued a stern warning of arrests for unlawful assembly and inciting a riot. NGO Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE) then accused Sebau of making high handed-threats by and of treating the "Penan's as if they are not human".

The Penan tribe are a nomadic people with a deep reverence for and connection to their land. They are part of the Indigenous Orang Ulu, a collective term for clan that live 'up-river'. The tribe have spent decades protesting against the vast logging and palm oil plantations that continue to erode their communities and ancient way of life.

The Murum dam is the first major overseas project for the China Three Gorges Project Company (CTGC) which is now already building or negotiating to build hydro- and coal-fired power stations in 23 different countries around the world. Hydroelectric dams are scheduled for construction in Sudan (Merowe Dam), Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South-east Asia, North Africa, Nepal, Ecuador, and the Americas.

So clearly, the outcome of the conflict at Sarawak will set an important precedent with regards to how the company deals with locals and their potential displacement at these other locations.

Read more at The Ecologist.

Dam construction image via Shutterstock.

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