Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dams a curse from hell, say Orang Ulu

Joseph Tawie
15 September 2009

KUCHING - The Orang Ulu communities of Kayan, Penan and Kenyah have stressed their opposition to the Sarawak Government’s plan to proceed with the construction of the Baram and Murum dams, explaining that they will virtually drown almost all their properties, lands, fruit trees, graveyards and cultural heritage.

In Baram, some 20,000 people from 30 or more longhouses and villages along the Baram River valley, locally known as Telang Usan, will be affected and displaced by the dam, said Philip Jau of Long Laput when he and four other Orang Ulu representatives met the press at a hotel in Kuching today.

About 38,900 hectares (389 sq km) of forest and land, the bulk of it is native customary land consisting of temuda, cultivated lands, gardens, villages, churches, graveyards, community forests and sites of historical significance will be submerged.

Not moving an inch

“Our YBs (elected representatives) say that the dam is a blessing from God, but we say it is a curse from Hell,” he said, and insisted that they would not move an inch from their present villages and longhouses.

“We have seen how the people of Sg Asap suffer after they have been moved out of their villages and longhouses in Belaga because of the Bakun dam. Their lives are worse than they were before,” he said.

Jau declared: “We will fight to the end, and there are so many ways to fight them (government); one is through the elections and another is through the court and yet another is through the United Nations.”

“Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak talks about 1Malaysia with the people given preference and yet we the Orang Ulu have been sidelined, our plight and our problems ignored.

“What the state government is doing to the Orang Ulu is contrary to the wishes of the prime minister,” he added.

A 55-year-old tua kampong, Panai Irang of Long Sepatai Akar, Baram, said that he and his Penan people could not live in water and if the dam was to be built, they would perish together with the water.

Signature campaigns

Speaking in Penan, he said: “Our greatest worry is that the dam is going to flood our villages, our properties and our land on which we have planted fruit trees and we have learnt to cultivate on land to survive. That is why we don’t want the dam to be built.

“Not only the Penans are worried, but also other communities like the Kayans, Kenyahs and others,” he said, pointing out that this was the message his people wanted to convey to the authorities.

Expressing similar sentiments was Johannes Luhat of Kpg Long San, who said that they had initiated a signature campaign among the Orang Ulu communities against the dam project.

“So far we have collected more than 200 signatures. More are coming as we have sent our men to the ground,” he said, adding that after the signatures had been collected, they would submit a petition bearing those signatures to both the State and Federal governments.

Luhat made it very clear that they were not anti-development. “Sure we want development such as roads, hospitals, schools, rural electrification projects, but not a project such as the Baram dam which will destroy our lives and livelihood.”

Like their counterparts from Baram, two representatives from Belaga, Bujang Jalong and Suie Along also expressed their opposition against the construction of the Murum dam in their area.

Lives have turned for the worst

Suie said: “Both of us are representing some 1,000 Penans of Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim and Long Ubain villages along the Sungai Peleiran-Murum.

“We come to Kuching not to ‘makan angin’ (leisure) but with a heavy heart, full of worry and sadness and to tell the world of our plight after the construction of Murum dam has started,” he said.

Suie said that all their villages, longhouses, lands, gardens, properties and graveyards as well as their hunting grounds would be destroyed and flooded by the dam.

“We are then forced to move out from our villages to an unknown area,” he said, adding that they were aware that the government had failed to provide better living to those who had been affected by the Bakun and Batang Ai dams.

The people of Sg Asap faced serious social, economic and a host of other problems, he said.

The Penan Talun, Long Belangan have been suffering and their lives are worst now than they were in their previous villages.

“We know the impact will be on our livelihood, our community and on our generation,” he said, expressing the hope that the government should cease immediately the construction of the dam.

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