Last update:
2015-01-23

Bakun dam, Malaysia


Description:

The Bakun dam is a large dam located in the Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia. The dam has being built by Sinohydro (a state-owned Chinese company specialized in large dam construction all over the world), in collaboration with sate-owned Sarawak companies, such as Sarawak Energy and Sarawak Hidro, the national firms in charge of the project and electricity distribution [1]. The construction of the dam has been a source of conflicts between the State Government of Sarawak, international and local NGOs and indigenous people since the planning of the project until today. Oppositions of indigenous communities in collaboration with NGOs against the State Government of Sarawak and the main dam contractors started in 1997, when they asked the main contractor of the dam and the State government to abandon the project because considered unnecessary, since the energy demand of the country was already covered by the electricity produced; negative from an environmental point of view, one third of Sarawak’s remaining primary forest is located in the dam site area; and negative from a social point of view – the construction of the dam forces the displacement of indigenous communities living in the affected forest [2]. Moreover, in 1998 the Bakun Region People’s Committee asked the State Government of Sarawak and the Bakun Resettlement Committee to abandon the resettlement of the Bakun residents [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Bakun dam, Malaysia
Country:Malaysia
State or province:Sarawak
Location of conflict:Belaga
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Land
Palm oil
Water
forest products
Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Capacity (MW) 944

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Project area:70,000
Level of Investment:22,000,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:01/05/1997
Company names or state enterprises:Sarawak Hidro from Malaysia - developing and managing the Bakun Hydroelectric Project
Sinohydro Corporation Limited (Sinohydro) from China
Sarawak Energy from Malaysia
International and Finance InstitutionsChina Export Import Bank from China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Rivers, the SAVE Rivers Network, national Indigenous Peoples network, Jaringan Orang Asli Se-Malaysia (JOAS)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Migration/displacement
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Counter arguments mobilizers have been using to try to stop the project:
1. the project was considered unnecessary, since the energy demand of the country was already covered by the electricity produced;
2. the project was considered negative from an environmental point of view, one third of Sarawak’s remaining primary forest is located in the dam site area;
3. the project was considered negative from a social point of view – the construction of the dam forced the displacement of indigenous communities living in the affected forest [2]
Despite these arguments, the project is operational and people displaced.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

World Commission on Dams: The Resettlement of Indigenous People affected by the Bakun Hydro-Electric Project, Sarawak, Malaysia
[click to view]

Report prepared by the Bruno Manser Fund, a charitable association registered in Basel, Switzerland.
[click to view]

Behind an ambitious megaproject in Asia: The history and implications of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in Borneo [1]
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Bakun Dam - International Rivers [3]
[click to view]

World rainforesst Movement: Malaysia: conflict caused by Bakun dam continues in Sarawak [2]
[click to view]

Indigenous Leaders in Malaysia Launch Campaign Against 12 Dams [4]
[click to view]

IR: Indigenous Leaders in Malaysia Launch Campaign Against 12 Dams
[click to view]

Indigenous Peoples Protest Destructive Sarawak Dams, Corruption at Industry Conference in Malaysia [5]
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documentary series on Bakun dam
[click to view]

International Hydropower Association conference, Sarawak Malaysia - protest video
[click to view]

Damming Our Future sheds light on the impacts that will take place if 12 more mega-dams are constructed in Sarawak, Malaysia.
[click to view]

Other documents

Protest at the IHA conference
[click to view]

Other comments:This case is being studied under an ESRC funded project entitled ‘China goes global: a comparative study of Chinese hydropower dams in Africa and Asia’ by the School of Oriental and African Studies SOAS. Interviews with community members, government officials and dam builders were carried out.
Meta information
Contributor:Dr Giuseppina Siciliano, Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Email: [email protected]
Last update23/01/2015
Comments
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