The Political Ecology of the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam [article]

Shun Deng Fam, University, The Australian National, University, The Australian National
2017
Borneo is a unique island, with unique charismatic wildlife, such as the clouded leopard, bearded pig and five langur species. The Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo is also in a singular situation. Rainfall on its mountain ranges near central Borneo is so plentiful that in 1962, Australian engineers marked out 155 sites the state for hydropower potential, then further narrowed down to 51 sites by the Sarawak government and then reduced further to 12 key sites that will form the power
more » ... on backbone of Sarawak's industrialisation (Suhakam, 2009; Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, 1962). More than 40 years later, this potential is becoming reality. One of the largest dams in the world, the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam (BHD), came online in August 2011. The dam is built across the Batang Balui and forms a 700 square kilometre lake as its reservoir. Being a hilly area, old hilltops have become islands of various sizes. Of these, some are considered large enough by the Malaysian government to develop into eco-tourism sites (Sibon and Ling, 2013). However, little is known about the after-effects of the dam project. Related to the environmental and zoological issues facing the wildlife is the problem of human development. Due to the inundation from the dam, some fifteen indigenous longhouse communities have had to move from ancestral lands along the banks of the former Batang Balui. The government has relocated these peoples to a resettlement site some 60kms away by road (about an hour's drive due to the hilly terrain and poor road condition) from the dam. Perhaps the most prominent opposition to this relocation comes from foreign NGOs such as the Bruno Manser Fund, who are working to preserve and protect the cultural integrity and rights of the Penan, one of the indigenous groups affected. Others may see the relocation of these groups out of the forest as a chance to advance the "human development" aspect of the lives of the indigenous people. Human development and well-being are difficult concepts to define a [...]
doi:10.25911/5d6c3fde0aae5 fatcat:6itienilwfg2bojxkyegshdx5y