Sarawak Dams Contrast Best Practice at Industry Congress

Indigenous communities protest outside the IHA congress on May 22.

As leaders of the global hydropower industry gather in Sarawak, Malaysia to promote large dams as a responsible energy solution, local indigenous people have gathered outside to protest the Sarawak government's decision to build 12 large dams on their traditional lands.

On May 21-24, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) is holding its biennial world congress in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. The congress showcases the Sarawak state government’s dam-building scheme, which will submerge 2,300 km2 of forests that are home to 40 indigenous groups. Three dams have already been built on indigenous lands in Sarawak and have caused major negative impacts on both local people and the environment. As the Sarawak government promotes the dams as a path for development, a local indigenous movement called SAVE Rivers is fighting to stop dams that violate indigenous peoples' rights.

The state-owned electric company Sarawak Energy, has not made the dams' environmental impact assessments public, and affected communities are being forced to negotiate their own resettlement on unequal terms. Meanwhile, corruption in the Sarawak government is rampant and well-documented. Still, Sarawak Energy will use the IHA Congress to promote the Sarawak dams as "best practice."

The IHA claims that its voluntary auditing tool, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), could help Sarawak Energy improve its environmental and social performance. The HSAP has been used on the controversial 944 MW Murum Dam, currently being built by China Three Gorges Corporation. Yet the results of the assessment have still not been made public. Given the mistakes already made, critics point out that Sarawak Energy is using the HSAP to claim that it is building the dams responsibly.

Get involved as International Rivers joins indigenous activists facing off against global dam builders in Sarawak this week:

For updates on the IHA congress, check out the following resources:

Protesters evoke memories of the Bakun Dam, which was completed in 2011 and displaced 10,000 indigenous people.

For more background on the Sarawak dams:

Read media coverage of the IHA Congress:

View SAVE Rivers' video clips from the May 22nd protest (~1 minute) or watch the video on Youtube

View more photos from the May 22nd protest or visit our Flickr page

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