World Rainforest Movement

Malaysia: Baram Dam would flood indigenous communities to benefit mining in Borneo

The current government of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, is planning to build 12 hydroelectric dams which would displace tens of thousands of people and flood large tracts of tropical rainforest. Billed as clean energy, hydroelectric dams in tropical countries have devastating impacts on our climate because of the greenhouse gases released from the mass of rotting vegetation that comes with flooding such huge swaths of rainforest.

Officials claim the power generated from the dams will be used locally, but these are barefaced lies. Just the one dam already completed produces twice as much energy as the entire state uses at peak times! In reality, the power will mostly like go towards running polluting industries, like an aluminium smelter owned by Australian mining giant Rio Tinto – further degrading the environment and funnelling money out of the country.

The Baram Dam is one of 12 dams that the authorities in Sarawak are planning to build following the completion of the Bakun Dam. The 162-metre high Baram Dam would flood a rainforest area of 412 km2 (41,200 hectares) and at least 26 indigenous villages, causing the displacement of up to 20,000 Sarawak natives.

The proposed dam would cause havoc for the Kenyah, Kayan and Penan peoples in the upper reaches of the Baram River, one of Borneo’s great rainforest streams. Many of their villages would be submerged and would literally cease to exist. Traditional longhouse communities in the dam’s downstream areas would also face drastic changes and pollution of the riverine ecosystem, affecting river transport, fishing, irrigation and access to drinking water.

The Baram Dam and the other dams planned for construction also fail to fulfil at least six out of seven of the requirements of the World Commission on Dams (WCD): gaining public acceptance; comprehensive options assessment; addressing existing dams; sustaining rivers and livelihoods; recognizing entitlements and sharing benefits; ensuring compliance; and sharing rivers for peace, development and security.

Construction has already begun on the Murum Dam, and the Baram Dam and the others are coming soon. Indigenous people are being displaced, with the lies of “development” and “free utilities” being used as justification. Many displaced Batang Ai and Bakun dwellers have not received their promises from the government, and their human rights are being denied.

A campaign to build up international pressure against the Sarawak dams has been initiated with a petition asking the Malaysian authorities to put a stop to the project immediately, since these dams would have drastic social and environmental consequences.

You can sign the petition at

Based on information sent by Cecelia Agnes Ling, e-mail: