The recent logjam on the Rajang River was a natural disaster caused by heavy downpour and not by over-logging or impoundment of the Bakun Dam – so says an initial report by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.
Sarawak Forestry CEO Len Talif Salleh was reported by Bernama as saying that a ‘3D Airborne Hyperspectral Sensor’ taken on 15 October showed that the area was still covered by forest but traces of landslides could be seen due to heavy downpour at the Ulu Sungai Melatai catchment area. “We want to clarify the misconception and nonsense from an overseas source that the logjam was caused by over-logging or impoundment of Bakun Dam.” Over-logging was not an issue, he said, because there was no logging activity on both sides of Melatai River since 2006.
Some questions and concerns:
First of all, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation is hardly the most independent entity to conduct such an investigation.
Second, Sarawak Forestry should provide clear evidence and release all sensor photos.
Third, did Sarawak Forestry take into account that the water rushing down may not have started its journey in that particular area but further up the hillslopes that may have already been denuded? Sure, maybe it is right that there was no logging along the Metalai River. But what about further beyond the river banks?
Fourth, where did all those logs and logging debris come from? From the sky? Besides, nobody said that the logjam was caused by the Bakun impoundment. They are playing silap mata and tangan with us.
Now, the drop in the Rajang River level is a different story – probably caused by the impoundment of the dam and the dry spell. According to the Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB), the water level recorded at the Kapit waterfront on 13 October was 6.7 metres above sea level, reported the Borneo Post. This dropped to 1.8 metres by 5.00pm on 18 October. (Normal water level = 8m above sea level.) See Post report here.
There was no emergency plan, it would seem. Not only that, it seems like there was NO PLAN at all to anticipate the effects of the impoundment. Residents all along the river below Bakun are now faced with dire consequences as their river transport, food supplies and power could be affected.
Social activist Wong Meng Chuo, who has a masters degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College in London, said he was worried that a prolonged drought would pose severe environmental and ecological consequences below Bakun Dam.
Wong said the Rajang River was denied one-third of the water source with the impoundment of the dam.
“Firstly, river navigation in some areas will stop due to low water. Secondly, salty water from the ocean would come up to as far as Sibu. Thirdly, marine and river life will be affected,” Wong pointed out.
He explained that with less water in the river, there would be less oxygen which could cause some species of fish to die. Wong added there could also be more landslides along the riverbanks as the soil structure would be different.
He said it was unlikely that the impoundment of the dam would stop because it would incur a loss of RM330,000 per day to do so.