SARAWAK -A controversial dam financed by China that will flood a rainforest area half the size of Singapore and displace 20,000 tribes people was approved on Saturday by the Sarawak state government.
“The construction will commence as soon as possible,” Adenan Satem, chief minister of Sarawak on Borneo island.
The announcement will be a major disappointment for indigenous groups that have staged increasing demonstrations and road blockades in the rugged region to stop rampant logging and dam-building in the state, and have made blocking the dam on the Baram River a priority.
Peter Kallang, head of Save Rivers, a coalition of Sarawak NGOs and environmental groups, dismissed Adenan’s claim that the project had been blessed by local tribal leaders.
Activists allege authorities in the state have a history of buying off or pressuring community leaders to approve unpopular projects.
“How can the community leaders give their support when there has been no news on compensation and resettlement? They always will say yes to the government and there’s no transparency at all,” he said.
“Adenan should go and listen to what the poor indigenous people have to say, not the community leaders.”
Occupying northern Borneo island, much of Sarawak is a jungled landscape crossed by untamed rivers.
It is one of Malaysia’s poorest states despite being rich in natural resources, but authorities have plans for around a dozen hydroelectric facilities as they seek to accelerate economic development. Three already have been built.
Critics call the projects destructive white elephants that will create far more electricity than the state needs.
But authorities say the power capacity is required to lure industry to Sarawak.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown once called the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforests “the biggest environmental crime of our times.”
China’s Need for Power
Chinese companies and Chinese banks are now the biggest builders and financiers of global dam building. Chinese banks and companies are involved in some 330 dams in 74 different countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, including Kamchay Dam (Cambodia), Bakun Dam (Sarawak, Malaysia), Myitsone Dam (Burma) and Merowe Dam (Sudan).
As a result China has a growing and significant global environmental footprint. Many dams built by China overseas are done so without reference to international environmental and social standards. Information and data is also difficult to obtain given the lack of transparency around Chinese overseas. As a result China has a growing and significant global environmental footprint.
International Rivers works with its partners to communicate the experiences of the international movement for “people, water, and life” to new dam financiers and dam builders in China.
We have focused on the China Export-Import Bank (China Exim Bank) the country’s official export credit agency, who is the most important source of funds for Chinese dam projects overseas. China Exim Bank recently provided improved environmental and social guidelines for domestic and overseas loan projects.
We also focus on major Chinese companies involved in overseas dam building including the world’s largest dam builder and the Chinese state owned Sinohydro Corporation . We have also complied information on the corporate responsibility commitments and environmental policies of Gezhouba, China Guodian, Datang, Huaneng, Three Gorges Project Corporation, China Southern Power Grid Corporation – who have all emerged as global dam builders in recent years.
International Rivers’ China Global Campaign provides information about China’s role in global dam building, supports groups in countries affected by Chinese dams, and fosters a dialogue within China about the responsibilities of Chinese dam builders.