Tribal communities in Sarawak were left in the dark about the hydropower project

  • Malaysian authorities recently announced new dam projects on three rivers in the Bornean state of Sarawak without the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of local people.
  • Celine Lim, executive director of Sarawak-based NGO Save Rivers, said her community relies on the Tuto River for food and transportation, so the announcement „definitely sent the community into a frenzy because no one knew about the project before the announcement.”
  • After initial requests for information were ignored, opponents of the project have collected 650 signatures on a petition demanding more information from the government before the project can go ahead.
  • Lim joins Mongabay’s podcast to share with co-host Rachel Donald how dam projects can affect rivers and human communities, and reflects on lessons learned from a recent visit with aboriginal communities in California who successfully advocated for the removal of the Klamath’s dams. river and is now recovering its floodplain.

Abang Johari Oban, the prime minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, recently announced three new dam projects on Bornean rivers and suggested that local communities there give their consent.

But Celine Lim, executive director of the civil society organization Save the rivers, based in the Sarawak city of Miri, Mongabai tells Newscast that his community in Baram district was not consulted beforehand. „When it happened, it definitely sent the community into a frenzy because no one knew about the project before the announcement,” he says.

Before Lim helped collect a 650-person petition for more information, letters the communities wrote to representatives were ignored, he says.

Listen to the full conversation here:

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Among the reasons given by Abang Johari for the dam projects are increased electricity to the state, an increase in crocodile populations and residents asking for them – but sources Mongabai contacted said otherwise.

“They are [Sarawak officials] They are only trying to lobby investors,” says activist and Dering tribal elder Willy Kajang. “What they want is money from abroad and foreign investors [do] Don’t know anything about what is happening in Sarawak.

As the Chief Minister points out, instead of being used domestically, electricity generated in the state is currently being exported to Indonesia’s neighboring province of West Kalimantan, with plans to export more to Brunei and Singapore. Sarawak already has five hydro dams, four of which provide 61% of its power.

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Banner Image: A rainforest pond in Lampir Hills, Sarawak. Photo by Red Butler.

Rachel Donald Journalist and creator of Climate Scandal Planet: Complicated, a podcast and newsletter for a world in crisis. Find his latest thoughts here 𝕏 via @CrisisReports And via bluesky @racheldonald.bsky.social.

Mike DiGirolamo Host and co-producer of Sydney-based Mongabay. He co-hosts Mongabay Newscast. Find him LinkedIn, blue sky And Instagram.

Related reading:

Sarawak government’s hydropower projects worry tribal communities

Development, Electricity, Energy, Featured, Freedom of Information, Governance, Government, Hydropower, Hydropower, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Rights, Interviews, Interviews with Conservationists, Podcast, Renewable Energy, Rivers, Tropical Forests, Tropical Rivers

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Borneo, Malaysia, Sarawak

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