Borneo Project documentary: Are Sarawak mega-dams even necessary?
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Borneo Project documentary: Are Sarawak mega-dams even necessary?

THE Borneo Project has released Development Without Destruction, the fifth and final film in a series of short documentaries exploring the realities of mega-dam projects in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE ), a developmental initiative under the government of Sarawak, intended to build up to 12 new mega-dams as part of the plan to rapidly industrialize rural areas.

However, based on case studies conducted by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley, the SCORE project is said to be “wildly excessive” in terms of energy being produced, even if it needs to sustain aggressive growth. RAEL also suggests that small-scale, community-based energy systems are more feasible, thanks in part to their lower costs, as they empower rural communities, strengthen local economies, and do not result in widespread destruction of critically important rainforests.

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The studies also show that the SCORE development plan assumes an energy demand growth rate of over 16% per year through 2030. The Borneo Project said no country has ever needed this rate of energy growth. An example given is China during the height of its industrial boom. China’s energy demand growth rate narrowly exceeded 10% for three years. Spending billions of public funds, destroying primary rainforests, and displacing indigenous communities in anticipation that Sarawak’s growth rate will be 160% of China’s peak rate is both irrational and irresponsible.


People’s protest against mega-dams in Sarawak. (Photo: Supplied)

Developing large scale dams almost never translates into electricity access for affected or upland river communities, the studies claim. Sarawakian villages that were displaced for construction of the Batang Ai and Bakun dams, for instance, do not have access to this energy; they are powered by a dirty diesel generator managed by a subsidiary of Sarawak Energy Berhad (the government-owned energy supply company in charge of dam development). When families are unable to meet this monthly expense, the company removes the fuses from their homes.

Increasing Sarawak’s energy tenfold would increase the profits of the already wealthy elite, but it is not a wise economic decision for Sarawak. “Large dams are expensive, antiquated technology that result in more harm than good,” said Jettie Word, director of The Borneo Project. “If the government of Sarawak truly wants to modernize, the obvious choice is small-scale and diversified renewable systems.”

Development Without Destruction can be viewed on The Borneo Project’s website in English and Bahasa Malaysia.
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