Photo courtesy Save Ulu Papar's Facebook page
Photo courtesy Save Ulu Papar’s Facebook page

The government has approved a new, controversial dam to be built in Sabah, Malaysia – and it will be built if nothing is done to stop it.

The foreseeable Kaiduan dam will obstruct the Papar River in the Ulu Papar valley, flooding some 3,000 acres of pristine rainforest, rich in biodiversity and home to endangered species as well as thousands of indigenous peoples. What’s more, is this land is part of Crocker Range which the government itself previously designated as part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is the duty of the State to obtain the indigenous people’s Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) before any further planning or developments can continue. And the locals clearly do not want this dam.

Mary Guin of Sabah Save Rivers said this when asked about the dam:

(It) is the worst nightmare for the community and it is like death for us…The younger generation of Ulu Papar will lose everything from their identity as Indigenous Peoples who are rooted in our soil, the historical sites, the local knowledge, culture and traditional belief which have a deep connection with the nature around us.

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Kaiduan Dam in Borneo Meets Fierce Opposition

Mike Gaworecki
April 06, 2015

Activists are calling on the government of Sabah, Malaysia, to reconsider the proposed Kaiduan dam, saying the Infrastructure Development Ministry (IDM) has not considered other solutions to Sabah’s looming water crisis and has failed to consult with the indigenous people who will be displaced if the project proceeds.

The government first proposed building the Kaiduan dam in 2008. The IDM insists the project is necessary to ensure an adequate water supply for the west coast of Sabah, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The dam would be built on the Papar River in the Ulu Papar valley, and would be 150 meters (492 feet) high, according to the website of the Taskforce Against Kaiduan Dam, a group that opposes the dam. It would submerge as much as 12 square kilometers (about 3,000 acres) of forest and parts of the Crocker Range, which the Sabah government itself nominated to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is home to numerous endangered species. An associated water treatment plant would be built some distance away.

The number of homes and communities that will be impacted is one of the hottest points of contention. IDM officials have asserted that only 110 families will be displaced. But in a statement issued on March 26, a group representing affected communities that oppose the dam called Sabah Save Rivers argued that each of the 110 homes that will be rendered uninhabitable houses two or three families. The group’s website asserts that more than one thousand indigenous people belonging mainly to the Dusun ethnic group will be ultimately displaced.

The IDM is ignoring Ulu Papar’s role as a watershed for the west coast of Sabah, as well as the part the indigenous villagers who will be driven from their homes play in conserving the ecosystems that all residents of Sabah rely on, Mary Giun, a spokesperson for Sabah Save Rivers, said in the statement.

“Indigenous people in the area are safeguarding the west coast’s water tank,” Giun said. “We want the public to be aware of this. One day, those who live in the city and its surrounding areas will be thankful to these very same communities who are struggling today to get the Government to listen to their side of the story.”

Giun said in the statement that the dam would rob local indigenous people of their ancestral lands and traditional ways of life. The government’s plan to resettle displaced villagers “is the worst nightmare for the community and it is like death for us,” she told “The younger generation of Ulu Papar will lose everything from their identity as Indigenous Peoples who are rooted in our soil, the historical sites, the local knowledge, culture and traditional belief which have a deep connection with the nature around us,” Giun said.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on governments and institutions to consult with communities that will be impacted by development projects and to ensure that projects have their “free, prior and informed consent.” However, the Sabah government has not initiated the consultation process with the indigenous villagers who will be displaced by the dam, according to an earlier statement Sabah Save Rivers issued on March 24.

In that statement, the group called on Infrastructure Development Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan (commonly referred to as Pairin) to visit Ulu Papar and discuss the dam with the people who would displaced by it.

Pairin asserted that the government is making plans to initiate a dialogue with the affected communities, The Borneo Post reported on March 23. He said the dam is necessary to keep fresh water flowing to Sabah’s west coast, especially the rapidly growing capital city, Kota Kinabalu, according to the news report, which stated that Sabah’s population grew from 930,000 in 1980 to 3.12 million in 2010, and is projected to continue increasing. Pairin asserted that the dam must be built within the next three years in order to avoid a water crisis expected to arrive as soon as 2030, the report stated.

“What we hope is for the people to appreciate that we are doing our best to think of the future requirement of water for everyone,” the report quotes Pairin saying. “The increase in demand has made the management of water resources more challenging and complex.”

“Kaiduan Dam cannot be the best solution or measure to avoid water crisis,” state assemblyman Terence Siambun told The Borneo Post, speaking at a protest against the dam in the district of Penampang on March 25. “Why not look into the existing services and management, including leakages; how is it that 57 per cent of the clean water supplied to our people is wasted?”

Giun told that she and other opponents of Kaiduan Dam understand the need to address the approaching water crisis, but that they have yet to receive adequate information from the government to justify the project, such as how much water is really needed and whether anything has been done to address Sabah’s poor water management systems.

“Communities are not protesting to deny the people of Kota Kinabalu continuous water supply,” she said in the March 24 statement. “What they want is for the Government to look for sustainable solutions. Make use of the money that will be spent on this dam to better manage water resources.”

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