Saturday, July 05, 2008

Unesco queries dam plan in Sarawak

Tony Thien
Jul 5, 08 3:35pm

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has stepped in to seek clarification from Malaysian authorities concerning a controversial dam project in Sarawak said to affect a world heritage site.

The Unesco World Heritage Centre had on June 25 wanted the Malaysian authorities ‘to clarify the situation and provide us with any further information on the hydropower plans at Gunung Mulu National Park World Heritage site, a spokesman of the Paris-based UN organisation confirmed to the Switzerland-based Bruno-Manser Fund (BMF).

BMF stated this in an email to Malaysiakini today.

A leaked confidential document, which was made public by the BMF, has recently shown Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) plan to realize a 220 MW dam on Sarawak’s Tutoh river.

The proposed dam would submerge parts of the Gunung Mulu National Park that is one of only two Unesco World Heritage sites in Malaysia.

The proposed Tutoh dam is part of SEB’s controversial scheme to realize twelve new hydropower projects in Sarawak from 2008 to 2020.

If these plans were to be realized, several thousand natives would lose their traditional lands in the Bornean rainforest and would have to be relocated.

While Sarawak’s energy consumption amounted to 1120 MW in 2005, the new projects have a power generation capacity of 7000 MW.

Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state located on the northern coast of Borneo, is criss-crossed by rivers, and the Sarawak government has announced plans to harness its hydro-power potentials, a move that has been accelerated because of rising fuel costs and the global demand for clean air and environment.

Bakun's unresolved problems

Like the existing Batang Ai and Bakun Dams, it is also feared that the new dam will also lead to the displacement of many natives from their traditional lands.

Even the yet-to-the-completed 2400 MW Bakun Dam is facing many long-standing and unresolved problems following the resettlement of about 10,000 natives as they complain of lack of amenities and lack of suitable land for cultivation and loss of income from traditional sources.

Sime Darby, a major player in the development of the hydro dam project, has announced it is pulling out and this has threatened to delay the start of the construction of the undersea cable from Sarawak to Peninsular Malaysia to bring the excess power from Bakan and future dams to the mainland.

Tenaga Nasional Bhd chairperson Leo Moggie, commenting on this, told Malaysiakini in Miri recently that the government would have to find a new company to take over from Sime Darby. Up to now, he had no idea who that would be.

Without the undersea cable link, it would be meaningless to embark on the development of so many hydro dams in Sarawak as it is unlikely that Sarawak could find energy-intensive industries within a short period of time to take up all the available energy, after the start of the proposed smelter plants in Bintulu.

“It does look things may slow down a little,” industry sources said, adding that “the planned projects will go on, perhaps on a re-scheduled implementation plan.”

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