Baram Dam

Of the 12 dams planned in Sarawak, the 1,200 MW Baram Dam was planned to be next in line to begin construction after the completion of the Murum Dam. The proposed project has triggered frequent protests and opposition from Indigenous People living near the dam, and has led to widespread outcry by allied networks nationally, regionally and internationally.

If the dam is built, up to 20,000 indigenous people living in more than 26 villages would be displaced. The Sarawak government has already extinguished the land rights of some indigenous communities living near the Baram Dam site and has started to build access roads, although the project has not yet been formerly approved. About 90% of the 388 square kilometer area to be flooded by the Baram Dam are rightfully the customary ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples.

The Sarawak government-owned company, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), is leading development of the project. No builder has been announced for the Baram Dam, although it is widely expected to be China Three Gorges Corporation or Sinohydro, the two Chinese state-owned dam builders that are currently involved in the construction of the Murum Dam.

A consultancy company hired by SEB, Chemsain Konsultant Sdn Berhad, completed an environmental and social impact assessment (SEIA) for the project in 2015. To date, SEB and the state government have failed to disclose this report. Over the course of developing this report, SEB and Chemsain have held some meetings with local communities as well as conducted some household surveys. Communities where interviews and meetings for the SEIA took place say they have not given consent for the project to proceed. They report incidents of expelling SEB's consultants from their communities or refusing to fill out the household surveys.

In August 2013, the Sarawak government took the first steps to extinguish the land rights of indigenous peoples living near the dam site without their consent, in contravention of the national constitution. Ongoing court cases have been launched by several households collectively demanding their rights to customary lands be returned. Until the land is back in the hands of the affected communities, the residents of the Baram area remain concerned that the dam project could move forward.

A local alliance of affected communities (the Baram Protection Action Committee), the Sarawak-wide network SAVE Rivers, and the national coalition of Indigenous People, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, have consistently raised awareness of the destruction and dispossession that will be caused by the development of the Baram Dam. In October 2013, Baram community members established two road blockades to prevent construction, surveying work and logging at the proposed location of the Baram Dam. As a result, preparatory construction works have remained stalled. Now, more than two years later, the blockades have turned into permanent observatories where teams of local people are tasked with continuing to monitor the situation.

In mid-2015, the new Chief Minister governing Sarawak announced he was willing to enact a moratorium on the project and called upon the affected communities to dismantle the blockades/observatories. However, given that the senior governing administration of the Taib era remains in place, the overarching program to advance the "Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy" (SCORE) has not been altered, the orders to extinguish native customary land rights to the area around the construction site have not been revoked, and the existing legal framework for proceeding with development of large scale projects without regard for indigenous rights to land, self-determination or free, prior and informed consent, affected communities and their allies remain sceptical that real policy changes are underway. The tenacious determination of local people means that the observatories around the access roads remain firmly in place, the legal battles to assert land rights around Baram continue, and international advocacy efforts to heighten the pressure on project proponents to withdraw are ongoing.

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