A few days ago, The Star reported that the relocation of seven Penan villages affected by the proposed RM3 billion Murum Dam in Belaga, Sarawak would be carried out according to the findings of a social and environmental impact assessment.
State environmental adviser James Dawos was reported as saying that the government had appointed consultants to conduct the study, expected to be completed by year-end, and would consider their report before coming up with a resettlement plan. The villages affected are Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim and Long Uba. Long Wat villagers face double jeopardy: they are to be “temporarily relocated” (to enable the construction of a cofferdam to divert the river) before later resettlement.
Here’s what one analyst had to say in response:
The major omission in this news report is that it does not canvass the views of the affected Penan.
James Dawos is hardly qualified to speak on behalf of them; indeed, his recent flying visit to the area was his first encounter with them. Moreover, he used the occasion to boast about his many achievements, from the conference at Rio 17 years ago to the Bengoh Dam resettlement, which he thinks a success, but which the affected population thinks a disaster.
His denial that the affected Penan were involved in the Malaysia Day gathering to submit a memorandum to the Chief Minister is a measure of his own lack of familiarity with them.
Specifically, on the issue of “temporary resettlement”, the fact of the matter is that the Penan Lg Wat do not want to have to relocate twice. Once is bad enough.
All the Penan do not want the dam, except that they believe they can’t do anything about it, since construction has started. The construction was started without consultation, for all the federal government’s signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Similarly, the Penan Lg Wat believe that they are unable to stop the cofferdam, although they would, if they could.
From any rational, objective point of view, this idea of a “temporary resettlement” is totally hare-brained (and that would be an insult to hares): it could only be dreamed up by people who don’t give a damn about the people.
It is a well-established fact that all involuntary resettlement is a high risk event for the affected population: there is a high likelihood of failure, and anyone who has been involved in involuntary resettlements would be hard-pressed to name a case of unqualified success.
In the case of Murum, the risks are exacerbated by the fact that there is only going to be a very short period in which to conduct the required studies and assessments. By any standard, two-to-three months — the studies have not started — is way, way too short a period. In comparison, the studies for the Nam Theun II Dam in Laos took a few years, was subject to multiple levels of review, and even then, the resettlement has been beset with problems.
Now, the Penan Lg Wat are being subjected to a multiplied risk with this idiocy of a “temporary resettlement”.
It is believed that the principal beneficiary of the dam is Rio Tinto — for its proposed aluminium smelter in Bintulu. Now, if that is true, how can Rio Tinto justify such idiocy given its much-touted commitment to the Equator Principles?