NGOs Oppose Malaysian Dam


NGOs Worldwide Oppose Bakun Dam in Malaysia

Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises


The IPS news service reports on continued NGO pressure worldwide to scuttle the large-scale dam planned for Sarawak, Malaysia. The dam would flood 69,640 hectares, including large tracts of forest, and cause the forced resettlement of some 9,000 people. Recently the Malaysian High Court ruled that the environmental impact statement was illegal. Targets for an international campaign include the Swedish-Swiss engineering company designing the dam. This article was emailed to me for distribution. All such submissions are welcome.


Remember, materials circulated on this list are the opinions of the source and are not necessarily the opinion of Ecological Enterprises or Glen Barry. This internet forest campaign effort is in no way involved with my other affiliations from which I make a living and progress academically. Thus, this effort in no way includes or involves the University of Wisconsin or other short term consultancy arrangements in GIS and other informational technologies (the current example being working for the World Bank to make their biodiversity GIS datasets available on the internet). I am just restating this point to avoid confusion.

ENVIRONMENT: NGOs Worldwide Oppose Bakun Dam in Malaysia

By Ramesh Jaura

BONN, Jul 4 (IPS) - Some 120 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide have urged the Swedish-Swiss engineering corporation Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) to withdraw from the controversial Bakun hydroelectric power project in the Sarawak region of Malaysia.

In a letter to the ABB's senior executive Percy Barnevik in Zurich, the NGOs warn that the company's involvement in the large- scale dam "directly contradicts" its "principled stand on sustainable development".

They add that the deal is tantamount to dumping outdated technology. "Both Sweden and Switzerland have long abandoned large-scale hydroelectric projects as environmentally or socially acceptable forms of electricity generation," the NGOs argue.

The large-scale dam will involve the flooding of 69,640 hectares of land, an area larger than Singapore, including large tracts of forest and the forced resettlement of some 9,000 people mainly belonging to the Kayan, Kenyah, Kajang, Ukit and Penan ethnic groups.

"Agriculture and fisheries downstream of the proposed dam will be adversely affected and the risk of a major catastrophe through dam failure cannot be ignored," said the letter, dispatched Tuesday.

The note was made available to IPS Thursday by Heffa Schuecking of Urgewald, a German environmental NGO. Other signatories from altogether 20 countries include Peter Bossard of Berne Declaration in Switzerland, Carla Benelli of Crocevia in Italy and Sarah Tyack of Friends of the Earth in the United Kingdom.

Patrick McCully of the International Rivers Network in the U.S., Mats Djurberg of the Swedish Society for Nature, and Ellen Hofsvang of FIVAS in Norway have also signed the letter which is being backed by 29 members of the European Parliament.

The signatories recall that over the years the ABB had issued statements supporting the need for sustainable development. The company's 1994 report, entitled 'ABB Environmental Management Programme, Initial Review', said: "Protection of the environment is among our top corporate priorities. We address environmental issues in all our operations and public policy."

The NGOs point out that ABB was acknowledged for playing "a leading role in the Business Council for Sustainable Development", now the World Council for Sustainable Development.

"We are therefore deeply disappointed to learn of the company's involvement in the Bakun Hydroelectric Project, an involvement which we believe directly contradicts the company's principled stand on sustainable development," the NGOs said in their letter copied to the World Council for Sustainable Development.

Everywhere in the North -- Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, France and the United States -- there was a distinct tendency to move out of large-scale dams, they added.

Officials at the World Bank and other multilateral aid agencies had made similar observations and the Bank now appears to be moving out of the large dam-building business.

"Indeed there is a growing consensus within the development community that large dams represent an outdated, inefficient, uneconomic and environmentally and socially destructive technology," added the letter.

The NGOs further pointed out: "We respect the sovereign right of Malaysia's people to decide their own development path, whilst honouring the international agreements to which Malaysia is a party.

"However we find it deeply hypocritical that a company as progressive as ABB should be involved in actively transferring technologies which are no longer considered acceptable in its home countries. We also find it at odds with ABB's stated commitment to promoting the transfer of eco-efficient technologies in the world."

The NGOs argue the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development and other international and national bodies have repeatedly stressed the importance of public participation in sustainable development.

ABB itself has recognised this in its commitment to "communicating openly with interested parties, in the communities and countries where ABB operates as well as internally about its environmental performance".

In the case of Bakun, however, there had been little public consultation on the project. On the contrary, local residents and NGOs had repeatedly complained of lack of openness surrounding the project and its planning, the protest letter said.

The public had been denied access to vital feasibility studies, consultation with the local indigenous peoples had been extremely limited; and there had been no process for allowing public comment on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), parts of which had still to be published.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has recently ruled that the EIA was conducted illegally and that the government violated Malaysian environmental law in approving the dam. According to the court, the views of local residents from the area where the dam is due to be built should have been included in the EIA.

Besides, according to the NGOs, the government acted "improperly in the delegating the job of approving the EIA to the Sarawak state government, a major shareholder in the project".

Given this ruling, and the well-documented failure of the Malaysian authorities to consult openly during the planning of this project, the NGOs believe the continued participation of ABB will seriously undermine the company's reputation and indeed the reputation of other companies with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. (END/IPS/RAJ/RJ/96)

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