Thursday, May 19, 2022

Murum HEP dam benefits residents

Secara Rawak

KUCHING: Community leaders from Batang Ai, Sungai Asap, Murum and Baleh whose people are affected by hydro-electric power dams (HEP dams) gathered here recently. After a sharing session, they spoke to the New Sarawak Tribune about their respective experiences.

Murum Penan chief, Labang Paneh, said the lives of his people improved following their resettlement in a place that had basic facilities and amenities already in place.

“After six years, Murum hydro-electric dam has generated a lot of benefits for the community. Before the dam existed, we had a hard life because we lacked many things.

“For example, after Murum dam was completed, a school was built which was what I wanted the most. When I took my child to school at Murum, it was an amazing feeling. Now, all the children can attend school and Sarawak Energy also has programmes for them,” he said.

Still, he regretted that there are not enough job opportunities for the people. In that respect he hoped that in future Sarawak Energy and other government agencies could help.

“I also hope that Sarawak Energy could provide a vehicle for the community. We are thankful for the school but in order to go there, the kids need transportation especially during bad weather,” he said.

On the socio-cultural front, Labang hoped that modernisation would not eliminate the culture of the Penans now that they have been resettled.

Over at Batang Ai, community leader Pemanca Jaau Jagit said his community’s experience of being resettled during the construction of the Batang Ai hydro-electric dam could be shared with the people of Bakun and other places which also have hydro-electric dams.

“The experiences of the Ibans in the ‘ulu’ were pretty much the same as those of the Penans and others affected by hydro-electric dams. Generally we had transportation troubles every time we wanted to go to a school, clinic or the nearest town,” he said.

“After our resettlement in 1994, we got closer to Lubok Antu town, which put us closer to the schools, clinics and government offices. That changed our lives drastically,” he said.

According to him, after 35 years resettlement which has improved their quality of life, the only thing that the Batang Ai community cherished and want to protect is their culture. For that reason, his people still maintain many of their traditional social and cultural practices.

Lastly, Jaau thanked Sarawak Energy for its contribution of about RM200, 000 annually to Batang Ai Education Fund.

On behalf of the folk of Baleh, Temenggong Wilfred Billy Panyau said that he had high expectation with regards to the livelihood his people, the area as a whole and the environment following the commissioning of Baleh hydro-electric dam.

“I believe that the mega project would give rise to job opportunities and development of agricultural projects,” he said.

Wilfred also mentioned the possibilities of developing and marketing local handicrafts and creation of an education fund for local students. And he believes the dam would make Kapit Division a literal powerhouse of Sarawak.

Pemanca Tony Kulleh, the community leader of Sungai Asap in Belaga (where Bakun hydro-electric dam is located), said the experience of his people with regards to the dam construction that started thirty years ago was different as many locals as well as outsiders were against the project.

“Members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were moving around from village to village. I remember the project was halted for a while and then it was revived.

“After that, the government persuaded us to accept the dam by telling us all the good things that would happen to us and the people of Balui River (tributary of Rajang River). Thus, in exchange, we trust the government to bring some forms of development to us,” he said.

Tony has observed that there are pros and cons of resettlement at Sungai Asap. The positive side of it, according to him, are the schools, health clinics and telecommunication facilities, but our road hasn’t been constructed, which means we cannot really develop our land. So many promises were made, but until today nothing much has been done.

“Therefore, I say if there are any development projects like ours in the future, the local people must be taken care of as much as the project itself. That’s the fairest and most humane way to go,” he said.

Tony stressed that the government must appreciate and repay the sacrifices made by the local people by giving them certain sustainable projects so that they could develop their communities indefinitely without being too dependent on the government.

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