Impacts

The SCORE mega-dams would have devastating impacts on indigenous communities and rainforest health, and would even exacerbate global climate change.

 

Indigenous Rights

In Sarawak the indigenous population is about 48% of the total population of the state. They are divided into numerous distinct ethnic groups with different social structure and mores, but all share a culture at whose base is land. Land supplies not just food and resources; it is the spiritual home of the community.

Although the dams are being built on native land, indigenous communities have not been properly consulted and are being forcefully relocated from their communities. While the government promises full compensation, better schools, access to healthcare, and adequate farmland, these promises are often broken.

 

Bakun Dam Resettlement Disaster

In 1998 the government of Sarawak relocated about 10,000 people to Sungai Asap to make way for the Bakun Dam. Over one decade after resettlement, the people displaced by the project are still struggling to eke out a living. The government required resettled communities to pay for their own housing, which forced many families into debt. Communities that had been able to catch fish in the river, hunt, and gather forest products no longer have access to forests, and pollution from the dam has decimated fish stocks. Each family was promised 10 acres of farmland but was only provided 3 acres, often a half-day’s journey away, and often on infertile, rocky, and sandy land. This has not been enough to sustain a living. As the children of resettled families grow up, there has not been enough land available for them to start their own families. In short, resettlement has devastated the communities.

 

Indigenous Rights Violations in Baram Dam Preparation

A fact finding mission led by SAVE Rivers found significant human rights violations concerning resettlement for the Baram Dam. Based on detailed interviews in 14 villages along the Baram, the report shows how indigenous communities have been denied information, withheld from participation in studies and decision-making, coerced into accepting the dam through threats and intimidation, and thus denied their rights to their lands and territories, self-determination and to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Read the report, “No Consent to Proceed,” here.

Learn more about indigenous rights globally through Forest Peoples Programme.

Watch Global Witness’s film Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State, and see exactly how politicians and their cronies by-pass Malaysian law to sell off Sarawak’s land and take away indigenous land rights.

Learn more about organizations fighting for indigenous rights in Malaysia through the indigenous people’s network of Malaysia, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS).

Read about Sungai Asap in Al Jazeera, and cultural implications of displacement in The Ecologist.

Impacts Film

Watch this 10-minute documentary to learn more about the realities of forced displacement in Sarawak.

Climate Change

Hydropower is often thought of as climate-friendly because dams don’t burn fossil fuels to produce electricity, however scientific studies indicate that the warming impact of tropical reservoirs can be much higher than even the dirtiest fossil-fuel power plants.

 

Reservoir Emissions

Reservoirs produce significant amounts of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide when organic matter rots and decays. According to the most detailed estimate available, done by Ivan Lima and colleagues from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), large dams (taller than 15 meters) are the largest single anthropogenic source of methane, being responsible for 23% of all methane emissions due to human activities. This implies that dam methane emissions are responsible for at least 4% of the total warming impact of human activities.  The thermal, chemical and biological conditions in tropical reservoirs, like the ones planned for Sarawak, have higher methane emissions than those from reservoirs elsewhere.

 

Land Clearing, Construction, and Deforestation

Other dam-related greenhouse gas emissions include the fossil fuels and building materials used during dam construction; land clearing for reservoirs and resettlement sites, transmission lines and access roads; and the expansion of irrigated agriculture. Globally, loss of forests contributes as much as 30 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions each year–rivaling emissions from the global transportation sector. Trees capture carbon dioxide by taking it into their cells through photosynthesis and storing the carbon in their bodies. When trees are burned, harvested, or otherwise die, they release their carbon back into the atmosphere. The SCORE dams would result in the loss of 2425 square kilometers of rainforest, not including the land that would be cleared for resettlement sites. The Bakun Dam reservoir alone is the size of Singapore. The massive loss of forest would release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

 

Learn more about dam emissions from  the International Rivers Dirty Hydro Fact Sheet.

Take a closer look at tree cover in Malaysia through Global Forest Watch.

Learn more about the Bornean rainforest on Mongabay’s Borneo page .

 

Biodiversity

On a 20-minute walk through the rainforest of Borneo, you will encounter more tree species than exist on the entire North American continent. The distinctive biodiversity of the area attracts tourists and researchers from all over the world, in spite of the intense destruction of the rainforest from logging and palm oil plantations in the past few decades. Mega-dams are the newest threat to the rich wildlife of Borneo.

As the rainforest is destroyed and the  reservoirs fill up with water, the SCORE dams would have a devastating impact on the biodiversity of the region. Researchers from the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) of the University of California, Berkeley have recently conducted a biodiversity impact study looking at 3 of the 12 proposed SCORE dams and have uncovered alarming facts:

  • The 3 dams (Murum, Bakun, and Baram) would result in the loss of 110 individual mammals. This is more individuals than the 2012 inventory for all cattle in the United States.
  • The 3 dams would result in the loss of 34 million individual birds, more individual birds than were counted in the 2012 North American Breeding Bird Survey.
  • A minimum of 900 million individual trees and 34 billion individual arthropods would also be lost. 

Destroying the abundant wildlife of Borneo can be easily avoided if the government looks at the facts. Learn about the viable energy alternatives to mega-hydro projects in Sarawak here.

 

Resources

RAELReports Summary

BALI (joint project between Universities of Aberdeen, Lancaster, Cambridge and Edinburgh,)

LEAP Spiral’s current conservation initiatives in Malaysian Borneo.

Take a closer look at tree cover in Malaysia through Global Forest Watch.

Learn more about the Bornean rainforest on Mongabay’s Borneo page .

Are you a fan of the games? Learn how the 2020 Olympic games in Japan are affecting the Bornean Rainforests.