EXCLUSIVE: First pictures from sealed-off Bakun dam zone reveal social and environmental disaster

EXCLUSIVE: First pictures from sealed-off Bakun dam zone reveal social and environmental disaster

People displaced by Bakun dam - hundreds are living in so-called floating homes

(BASEL, SWITZERLAND) The Swiss Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has today disclosed a series of shocking pictures from the Bakun dam exclusion zone showing disturbing poverty and environmental destruction in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo. A BMF research team has managed to overcome the tight security measures preventing journalists or NGOs to travel behind the recently filled Bakun dam wall, Asia’s largest dam outside China and the world’s second-tallest concrete-faced rockfill dam.

The only recently completed 2’400 MW hydropower dam was meant to bring development and progress to the people of Sarawak. Pictures now disclosed to the public, however, show its real consequences: displaced indigenous communities forced to live in floating homes and the destruction of a unique rainforest habitat that counts among the most biodiverse in the world.

“The extent of suffering by the displaced communities is shocking”, said BMF campaigner Anna Meier, who had visited the dam site. “Hundreds of displaced people are living in floating homes on the Bakun impoundment. Malaysia’s showcase development project has turned into a disaster dam.” An indigenous Ukit community now living in floating homes was forcibly displaced while their village and graveyards were flooded. “Our aim is to build a new longhouse onshore near our former village”, the headman of the Ukit community said. “But we lack the funds and the government refuses to support us. They have not even paid us compensation for our submerged land because we refused to move to the resettlement site of the government.” As their traditional farmlands have been flooded, the Ukits live from fishing, hunting and harvesting some of the trees flooded by Bakun dam.

The Bakun dam construction submerged 695km2 of rainforest, an area the size of Singapore, and with it parts of one of the worlds’ biodiversity hotspots. The visitor can now watch a unique world drowning in the waters of Bakun impoundment: trees change their colour from green over brown to grey until they will finally disappear in the rising water for ever. Close to 10’000 Sarawak natives have been forcibly displaced but some refused to move to the resettlement site and returned to what is left of their former lands.

The Bruno Manser Fund calls on the Sarawak state government to immediately lift all travel restrictions to the Bakun dam site and to the Murum dam construction site in order to allow independent journalists and the public to take notice of what is really going on with these mega-projects. Malaysia is also asked to assist the Ukits and other indigenous communities in the Bakun region to return to their unflooded traditional lands and to pay the full compensation for their submerged lands and houses.


Large dams can only serve as last resort, acknowledged the Malaysian Ministry of the Environment.




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