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Former Malaysian Prime Minister speaks out against Sarawak’s mega-dams

Former Malaysian Prime Minister speaks out against Sarawak’s mega-dams

Indigenous peoples protesting against mega-dams and for small-scale energy projects at the waterfront in Kuching

(KUCHING / SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has suggested that the Sarawak state government should rethink its controversial dam-building initiative. Mahathir has today delivered a keynote speech to hundreds of investors at the International Energy Week, a power conference currently taking place in Kuching.

Mahathir's clear words against mega-dams followed a request by SAVE Rivers, a community-based network fighting Sarawak's dams, to oppose mega-dams and become a pioneer in the promotion of small-scale energy solutions and rural electrification. In their letter to Mahathir, SAVE Rivers quoted a recent study by Oxford University which found large dams to be uneconomical following an analysis of a representative sample of 245 large hydropower dams.

At the conference, Mahathir stated that he shared the Sarawak natives' concerns about the negative impacts of mega-dams on the environment and the people. He said that new technologies are available that minimise these impacts and that the Sarawak government should consider them.

Peter Kallang, chairman of SAVE Rivers and signatory of the letter said: "Thank you Dr Mahathir for saying what we have believed in all along. The Sarawak government should listen to this advice for the sake of our environment and the protection of our heritage and human rights."

SAVE Rivers organized a parallel conference where indigenous peoples discussed alternatives to mega-dams as well as development paths that would respect their traditional land and livelihoods. The conference was followed by symbolic protests, performances of traditional music and dancing by over 70 people at the waterfront in Kuching.

Earlier this week, the Bruno Manser Fund released an explosive report disclosing that Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), a Kuching-based infrastructure company, had received over USD1.4 billion (MYR 4.9 billion) in state contracts since its takeover by the family of former Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. According to Maybank IB Research, CMS is one of the major beneficiaries of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), an industrialisation programme powered by the proposed mega-dams.

The Bruno Manser Fund asks the Sarawak government and power supplier Sarawak Energy to review its dam plans and to immediately stop all work related to the construction of the proposed Baram Dam.

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