Controversial dam officially canceled in Borneo after indigenous protests

The controversial Baram dam has been officially canceled after years of opposition from local indigenous people, reports Malaysiakini.

While the project’s cancellation had been reported in late 2015, last month the Sarawak government officially repealed the gazette that revoked native peoples’ customary rights to the land that would have been flooded by the dam’s reservoir, which would had inundated 412 square kilometers, an area three-fifths the size of Singapore. About 20,000 people in 30 villages would have lost their homes or lands to the flooding.

Indigenous groups and environmentalists had spent years campaigning against the dam, as well as other planned mega-dams in the state. But it may have been politics that provided that nail in the coffin for the project: the majority Barisan Nasional party feared losing the Baram seat over the dam.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss-based group that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak’s forest-dependent people, says the cancellation is part of Chief Minister Adenan Satem’s effort to rebuild relations with Sarawak’s indigenous communities ahead of a state election. The group believes the cancellation will spur a review of other large-scale hydroelectric projects in the state.

The dams have been controversial for their scale, disregard of traditional land claims, weak environmental impact assessments, and links to the former Chief Minister and current Governor, Taib Mahmud, who had allegedly amassed billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains through relationships with construction and energy companies. Environmentalists are pushing for greener and smaller-scale forms of energy production, including microhydro and solar.

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