Peter Kallang, Chairman SAVE Rivers
Dry taps or murky domestic water is not the only outstanding issue suffered by those who were displaced to make way for the controversial Bakun Dam. Although there has been a chorus of complaints about the dirty water supply recently, the authority should also seriously and urgently draft an overall action plan to solve the many problems existing in the resettlement area. They owe it to the villagers to fulfil promises which were made to them before and after they were moved to Sungai Asap.
After 19 years since they have been resettled, there are still many more outstanding and serious issues which impact the people’s social and economic wellbeing. Some of these problems concern their farmland, housing, unpaid compensation, roads, telecommunication and job opportunities.
One of the most commonly shared woes is regarding their lands, both farmland and the land allocated for their longhouses, which is insufficient to meet their requirements. For the farmland, most of the land owners are not able to fully utilise theirs because the sites are not accessible by roads. The only means to reach that land is on foot through the forest. So transporting produces from the land or bringing equipment for farming could only be done by manually carrying them and walking for hours. When asked, Alexander Lihan from Uma Nyaving Sungai Asap said, “After our many complaints, the authority did build a main road from the trunk road to the farm site. However, it was not tarmac but surfaced with a thin layer of pebbles. Besides, there were no feeder roads from there to the land plots located away on either side from that main road.” Said Alexander, “But now after just a couple of years, even that so called main road is washed away and it is overgrown with bushes and tall grass. Now, we are back to square one.” When asked, Alexander said, “In our old village the river was our means of transport and with their own boats the folks were able to reach their farms or anywhere they want to go. So here, most of us are not able to farm like we did in our old villages. ”
Tuah Miku also of Uma Nyaving in Sugnai Asap said, “If the authorities fulfil their promises which they made before we moved and at campaign times for the various State or General Elections, it will go a long way in solving our problems.” He showed the manifesto for the candidate who won the Murum state sit in the 2016 State Election; he continued, “Until today there are so many who have not received the full compensations for their former home and land.”
One family from the Penan Talun village in the Sungai Asap resettlement area (who want to remain anonymous) complain about bad workmanship, cheap, soft woods and inferior quality materials used to build the houses allocated to those resettled. To prove their point, they show their toilet, where the toilet bowl and the sewer pipes have dropped off and the septic tank for the toilet was overflowing. However, the toilet is still being used. As the houses was built on stills, the faeces from the toilet just dropped on the bare ground under the building. The situation caused a disgusting stink in their whole house.
Peter Kallang, the Chairman of SAVE Rivers commented, “In order to be called sustainable, developments must be environmentally and socially friendly. The wellbeing of the people or the human rights issues must be prioritised when planning for any development. Bakun, Murum and Batang Ai are not good examples.
SAVE Rivers is a grassroots network of indigenous communities and civil society organisation in Sarawak, working to protect human rights and stop destructive dams in the state.