It is reported that on friday (15/10/2010), the flooding of South East Asia's largest dam - Bakun Dam - has begun. The construction of the controversial dam which started in 1994 has been always in hassle due to various reasons such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis, internal conflict of interest among parties involved, environmental and social damage link problems. Expected to be in operation by 2003, the fate of the dam is finally sealed today in 2010 amidst all the hiccups.
However, here are some interesting facts known about the dam:
1. It will generate 2,400 MW of electricity (equivalent to Doel nuclear power station in Belgium)
2. Be the tallest concrete faced rockfill dam (CFRD) in the world
3. Be the largest hydroelectric dam in Malaysia
4. It will cover an area of 700km sq. of land underwater - the size of Singapore
5. Some 9,000 natives (Kayan/Kenyah) indigenous people have been relocated
6. About 230km sq. of virgin tropical rainforest had been cut down
7. Thousands of exotic tropical biodiversity ecology perished
8. Other environmental fallouts i.e. illegal logging, poaching and water-borne diseases
Though Sarawak's initiative of planning ahead some 20-30 years down the road is commendable, construction of such mega project - if not properly addressed - may invoke great appraisal from the public. For example, if we are to weight the whole chronology of the Bakun Dam and the purpose of it's construction against all the losses (in terms of economic loss during the 1997 recession + social fallout impacts + environmental degradations) it brings, one can easily notice that the balance is justifiably tilted towards the latter! And yet you are suggesting of constructing another 12 more dams? Seriously, Sarawak needs an election... now!
Technically speaking - according to pre-conditional design specification - dam impoundment can only be commenced after a continuous 7 days of dry weather and a water depth of below 60m. However, in today's case as reported by the news, the flooding had already begun despite the conditions and protest from the Bakun folks which lodged a police report to halt the process earlier.
A critique suggested that the flooding is rather rush and improperly regulated since the people downstream were not being adequately inform of any kind of Emergency Rescue Plan should anything happen during the flooding. Also the compensation issue of the lands that has not settled till now - as we speak - is another thing! Interestingly, this is the MD and chief engineer of Sarawak Hydro, Zulkifle Osman's reply "We found that the weather was good enough in the past two days and the river level was safe, so we went ahead with the impoundment" Excuse me, I believed that's not how we engineers were thought back in faculty. We speak based on facts and figures. And unfortunately for Balui River, the fact is that on monday (11/10/10) there was an incident of a capsized longboat and the man is still missing! Safe huh?
As for Dato' Sri James Masing remark on the assurance that the people should not worry because the dam was build to last, let me correct you technically on that sir - in engineering, lifespan of each design process always has limitation otherwise great maintenance work is carried out. Even with rigorous maintenance check every now and then, nothing is build to last! Also about the promise that the government will compensate the Bakun folks in no due time, I'll say that's just another spin for the coming election. Why? Because they have been saying and keep on repeating that same cheap trick since the preliminary process of Bakun Dam in 1994.
I think Sarawakians agree to the notion of Bakun Dam - more electricity supply, more investors coming in to the state to set up their factories, more jobs created, less unemployment, high income generation per family and voila, everyone is happy! why not? - but the problem now that culminates amidst these chaos is only one simple thing i.e. the government is not transparent enough to the people. They refused to compensate the amount of pay for the lands deserved by the Bakun folks, rushed the flooding of the dam without prior notices and plundered the land intentionally savvy for themselves.
I used to remember my grandpa told me once that the politicians nowadays fight no more like their predecessors. In the old days, each representative fights for the plights of his/her people but today it is more likely that the he/she fights for himself, families and cronies.
Good news is, changing this we can as the electorates and the time is in the next coming election, if our politicians ceased to behave.
Till the next posting.