By Zora Chan Friday, July 25th, 2008
KUCHING: Comments by environmentalists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on Sarawak’s plan to build 12 hydroelectric dams were yesterday labelled as “fabricated lies”.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang yesterday said these people lacked knowledge and understanding of Sarawak’s geography, topography, watershed and river tributaries.
“They should not tell lies to the world because there is a tendency for the world to believe these lies when they are spread by the media.
“We have no control over fabricated lies,” he told reporters after launching a coffee-table book entitled ‘Reflections from Sarawak’s Rivers’.
He was representing Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Jabu pointed out there was a great distance between one of the proposed dam sites, Tutoh, and Mulu National Park and, therefore, the project would not affect the Unesco World Heritage Site.
“The lies were said to disadvantage Sarawak and this is very irresponsible of them,” he reiterated.
He said Sarawak’s terrain had a lot of hydropower-generati ng potential for the future amidst declining supply of fossil fuel.
Recently, the Star quoted the Centre for Environmental Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem) chairman Gurmit Singh as having said big hydroelectric dams were not necessarily sources of renewable energy.
He said the World Commission on Dams classified dams with a generating capacity of 30MW and below as renewable while those with larger capacities were unsustainable.
He said the 12 dams which Sarawak planned to build were large with capacities ranging from 54MW to 1,000MW.
“We also hope the federal government can advise Sarawak not to be too gung ho in going ahead with the projects,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
He said large hydroelectric dams were not guaranteed to have “perpetual water supply” because of global climate change.
Currently, Sarawak’s energy output is 933MW and it does not need any more energy.
Gurmit said the authorities should also factor in the impact of such projects which could displace many people and damage Sarawak’s centuries-old rainforest.
“One of the proposed dams, Tutoh, raises questions on whether Mulu National Park would be able to maintain its Unesco World Heritage Site status as the dam could submerge parts of the park,” he said.
“Once the boundaries of the park is changed or reduced, the status would be reviewed.”
Gurmit said environmentalists were prepared to meet the Sarawak government if the state leaders were willing to meet them.
However, Jabu did not roll out the red carpet to these NGOs, saying that foreign environmentalists must go through their respective officials in their high commissions or embassies.
“Otherwise, these NGOs are nothing and irresponsible, ” he said.
As for local NGOs, he said the government had been working closely with them on the matter and both sides recognised the need to build the dams in the interest of Sarawak and Malaysia.
He stressed that the state government made sure that Mulu National Park complied with the high standards set by Unesco and other organisations such as FAO and International Tropical Timber Organisations (ITTO).
Other projects would also comply with the world environmental order, he assured.
Jabu said the dams would also supply clean, efficient and cheap energy, thus making Malaysia more competitive in its industrial endeavours in the future.
He said these multi-million ringgit projects would be funded by the federal and state government but withheld the estimated cost.
With the creation of Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), the state requires more energy to feed its heavy industries such as metal, aluminium and glass processing.
Earlier, in a text of speech read by Jabu, Taib said Sarawak Inland Waterway Transport (SIWT) system would be implemented for the good of riverine communities.
“The two-year development project seeks to enhance river transportation in Sarawak and support more effective use of water and related resources to alleviate rural poverty while improving environmental management and contributing to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he said.
The outcome – a SIWT master plan that covered all major river systems in Sarawak for a period up to 2020, proposed recommendations to support the multiple functions of IWT that would be finalised next month.
Taib said Sarawak took pride in its river management system as it was among the best in Malaysia.
He urged all stakeholders to strive harder to make Sarawak’s inland waterway transport system one of the best in the world.
On the book, Taib announced that it would be converted into an e-book and made available for download starting next month.
He commended the year-long partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) and The Borneo Post which resulted in the publication of the book and better awareness of river cleanliness and safety among the people.
UNDP officer-in-charge Daratul Baida Osman Khairuddin said the immense importance of rivers to Sarawakians could not be overstated.
“Rivers have functioned as corridors of mobility, connecting people to markets, towns and social services; helped reduce rural isolation and poverty; unlocked human potential by opening up new frontiers for commerce and opportunity; provided hours of fun and recreation; and helped keep communities together,” she said.
She added that sustainable development of Sarawak’s waterways was central to the realisation of the objectives of the SIWT project.
Among other things, the book features articles and photographs by UNDP officials namely Richard Leete, Chung Sung Ping, Sharon Ng, Lilei Chow, Geneve Tan, Nabilla Sharil and Trudy Tan; SRB officials Muhamad Yakup Kari, Hazizan Sapiee, Zehegkiel Piree, Marazuki Zahwi and Riyung Barau; Kuala Lumpur-based travel writer Bob Teoh; and freelance photographer Steven Selvaraj.
The forwards were written by Jabu, former UNDP resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Richard Leete; and The Borneo Post regional chief editor M Rajah.