What Is Wrong with Mega Dams? – The Baram Dam Project

When we talk about renewable energy, it is about the production of electricity using renewable resources such as sun light and wind, which won’t be depleted. Some people might suggest hydroelectricity which is obtained through the turning of turbines using the gushing of water from a higher elevation (potential energy to mechanical energy to electrical energy) which does not use up any resource as well. The most renowned hydroelectrical dam in China – Three Gorges Dam at Yangtze River which covers an area of 632 square kilometres generates a total of 84 TeraWatts-hours of electricity each year (a typical light bulb requires only 60 Watts to light up).  

The Bakun Dam.
(photo taken from the Sarawak Report website)


So far, there are 80 dams in Malaysia (each state has at least one) and most of them are used as the storage for water supply. Out of the 80 dams, only 11 are used for the generation of hydroelectricity. From the period of 2008 until 2020, 12 more hydroelectrical dams are planned to be constructed in Sarawak within the 15 years in order to meet the electrical demand in Peninsular Malaysia and also Sabah and Sarawak. A study on the protest of Bakun Dam project (the flooding of Bakun Dam began in 2010) has pointed out several bad impacts caused by the dam towards the environment (detailed explanation can be found in the report of the World Commissions on Dams – Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making):

  • Loss of habitats for terrestrial species as well as aquatic species despite of efforts made to counteract the collapse of ecosystems
  • The outbreak of water-borne diseases due to deterioration of water quality at downstream
  • Lowering efficiency of hydroelectricity generation due to heavy sedimentation which reduces the volume of the dam

We are told that the environment sometimes has to compromised for the development. I agree with that statement because whenever we do something to the environment, damage will be done, regardless how big or how small the impact is. However, for this case – the construction of dam, it has not been so disagreeable to me because in the name of development, human rights have to give way. The construction of dam often takes up a large coverage of space which is mostly away from the cities to contain a huge amount of water. The construction site probably houses hundreds of native people who rely on that piece of land for a living since the existence of their ancestors. The people previously thriving there will loss their home and also livelihood (although so called a ‘fair’ compensation will be given).

The place which will be flooded if Baram Dam is constructed.
(photo taken from Hornbill Unleashed blog)


I would like to direct the limelight onto this proposed dam project: the Baram Dam (owned bySarawak Energy). According to the data retrieved from Baram Dam Blockade website, if Baram Dam is built, an area of 400 square kilometres of rainforest will be submerged under water, causing up to 20 000 people from 26 villages to be displaced from their original homeland. The protest of the dam construction by native people is being ignored. Fearing that one day Baram will be like Bakun when the dam is constructed, native people at Ulu Baram built blockade from scraps to prevent the entrance of construction machineries. Houses are built at the blockade and people stay there for 24 hours to defend their own land. The blockade has been destructed by the authorities and reconstructed again and again for many times by inhabitants there. When many people in Peninsular living comfortably at homes, these people have to stand up against whatever that tries to get rid of their rights, rights which should have been enjoyed by all Malaysians in this harmonic country.

What it will look like if the dam is constructed (top) and the original view of the river at Baram (bottom).
(images retrieved from Baram Dam Blockade website)


We don’t see it with our own eyes, we have never felt the fear of losing our homeland, so we don’t really pay attention on what’s going on on the other side of Malaysia. Just like there is quite some distance between Africa and Malaysia that we barely know about the famine there, or we just ignore it because it has nothing to do with us! But this case happens in Malaysia, in Borneo. The native people are Malaysians too, but why are they receiving such an unfair treatment? Their voices are being covered up by one sided stories from the authorities and they try to get the messages out so that everyone knows the issues over there. The blockade has been there since October 2013, it has been over a year. Is this your first time listening to this story?

Don’t let them fight alone! Even though we can’t physically support them, pass the message around! Share the video! Donate to their cause! Deprivation of human rights is not tolerable!
More information:
Baram Kini blog
Baram Kini youtube channel
The Borneo Project on Vimeo

1) Hydroelectric power: how it works. (2014). In United States Geological Survey website. Retrieved from http://www.usgs.gov/
2) Dan, H., Murphy, B. R., & Klopfer, M. D. (2014). A struggle for power in China: the Three Gorges Dam. New York, NY: National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
3) Latifah, A. M. & Les Met. (2014). An ecological evaluation approach for dam project development in Malaysia. Life Science Journal, 11, 225-237
4) Kartini, A. T. K. (2007). Global networks: issues and tactics in the Bakun Dam project. Jebat, 34, 1-16.
5) Baram dam blockade. (2014). In Sarawak Report website. Retrieved. from http://www.sarawakreport.org/


P/S: This article is taken from Confessions of An Environmental Student blog.

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