The Baram Dam is part of the Sarawak government’s plans to build up to 12 large dams, submerging a rainforest area of over 400km2 that is home to 20 indigenous groups.
Although Sarawak already has enough energy to meet its demand in the coming years, the government plans to provide cheap electricity to attract dirty, energy-intensive industrial investments. The plan is called SCORE and they aim to complete 6 of the dam projects by 2020 .
The proposed Baram Dam could displace up to 20,000 people from 26 villages; but communities are opposing the project, and have been manning two blockade sites for months now, one at the access road near Long Lama and one near the dam site.
They know what they are fighting against; three dams have already been built on indigenous lands in Sarawak and have had devastating effects on both communities and the environment. Also, the mounting costs of these dams will ultimately be borne by Malaysian tax payers, especially as the government removed energy subsidies after the 13th general election was over and there was no longer a need to sweet talk the electorate.
Those affected by dams in the various regions of Sarawak came together at the end of 2011 and founded the Save Sarawak Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers). That organization, as well as other groups, have been supporting the struggle for the rights of those affected and for the protection of the rainforests. In 2013 they have started occupying and blockading the roads to the dam site.
According to the mobilizers, social & Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIAs) are not being made public as per international dam building standards. Despite indigenous communities affected by the Baram dam requesting information to be made transparent, the Government and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) have ignored them. There is currently no information publicly available as to what the intended Baram dam would look like.
Companies linked to Chief Minister Taib Mahmud are the main beneficiaries of the cheap energy and contracts related to dam construction.
In September 2012, Sarawak's Save Rivers group lodged a complaint against the CEO of Sarawak Energy, Mr. Sjøtveit, with Malaysia'a Anti Corruption Commission MACC because Sarawak Energy had unduly favoured construction companies linked to the family of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.
The campaign has already chalked up a number of successes. For example, In March 2012, the Rio Tinto mining group, announced it would scrap plans for a $2 billion aluminium smelter project in Sarawak because it "could not agree on the commercial power supply terms with Sarawak Energy".
In December 2012, Hydro Tasmania announced its withdrawal from Sarawak Energy's dam plans in the wake of an Australia tour by an indigenous delegation from Sarawak.
Despite the fact that work on the Baram Dam access roads began in 2013, the mobilizers say that effective resistance has already given its fruits, delaying work on the planned the Baram Dam.