By Morten Rønning
The Dyno subsidiary Tenaga Kimia in Malaysia has submitted a bid for the delivery of explosives to the dam construction in Sarawak. The dam will become the tallest in all of Southeast Asia. In March of this year, Alcatel STK submitted an bid on a sub-water cable to the project.
As late as in April this year, Malaysian police had to take action against natives who held a demonstration against the development. According to the Borneo Post, 17th of March 1996, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, refers to the protesters as traitors, and accuses foreign environmentalists of wanting to stand in the way of economic progress in Malaysia.
It is many years since the Bakun dam plans were first published; and the opposition has been part of the struggle to save the unique rainforest on the Borneo Island. In 1990, the plans were abandoned, but are now re-launched. Preliminary work has already began. Sarawak is also severely threatened by commercial logging.
Facts are not interesting
We requested a comment from information director Brad Larson of the Dyno explosives division. Much to our surprise, Larson refers to an earlier comment made in connection with a totally different NorWatch case, namely the problems surrounding the Freeport mine in Indonesia (NorWatch 2/96). Dyno's reaction to controversial projects is apparently not dependant upon the facts of the actual matter. Dyno will not take position in internal, national matters, but merely follow laws and regulations in the various countries.
From forest to plantation
The people of the area around the higher parts of the Balui river, mainly the Kenyahand Kayan community, live from farming and fishing. They live in traditional long-houses. The company behind the development, Ekran Bhd, plans to establish a 116 square kilometres oil palm plantation by the Belaga river. At this plantation, the 9428 relocated natives will be provided with work and place to live - 30 kilometres away from their present settlements.
Within the new area, there will be very limited possibilities to continue their traditional way of living. The indigenous people's way of life will be totally altered, according to New Strait Times, Kuala Lumpur 15th of March 1996.
The economic compensation that is planned for the ones who must move, will be managed through a fund established by the authorities. According to Datuk Leo Moggie, Minister of Post and Communication, this arrangement is made as the natives «do not know how to handle these amounts of money».
The 204 meter high Bakun dam will produce 2400 megawatts electricity. This will mainly cover the increasing need for electricity in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
The reservoir will stretch for more than 200 kilometres, and will cover an area approximately the size of Singapore. Estimated costs for the project is in the neighbourhood of 40 billion NOK, and will be finished in the year 2001.
The electricity will be transported through cables the entire 670 kilometres out to the coast, among other places through a national park in the far west of Sarawak. The electricity will be transported further through a 650 kilometres sub-water cable under the South China Sea to the Malaysian mainland. Alcatel STK has submitted a bid for the delivery of the underwater cable.
- This construction has been part of our plans for many, many years. To the best of my knowledge, the Malaysian authorities have done an excellent research job, says Kjell Hedqvist of the Alcatel STK information unit.
«We Penan people live in and from the forest. Without it, we will die. My tribe do not wish to be moved from our forefathers' soil.»
Chief of one of the long-houses.
In the area to be flooded 105 protected species exist, according to International Rivers Network. A lowering of the oxygen in the deeper layers of the reservoir will threaten the life in the Balui river, downstream of the dam, and the natives' access to animal protein from fishing will be less. In addition, the people living in the area are concerned with destructive tourism as a result of the improved infrastructure.
Malaysian law requires that an analysis of the environmental consequences be approved before construction start. However, Ekran Bhd did not have the time for this. So far, merely parts of the consequence analysis are approved by the government. The analysis was divided into four, so that the work with the actual dam could start ahead of a full survey. According to the Sarawak Tribune 21st of March 1996, the analysis for the road construction and the power transportation are not yet approved.
-We have full confidence in the local authorities' judgement with regard to this development, says Kjell Hedqvist.
The Bakun dam is situated in an area exposed to earthquakes. Dam expert Weilou Wang of the Dortmund University has said that the dam will not be able to withstand an earthquake exceeding 5 on the Richter scale. In 1994, an earthquake in the Sabbath area, 300 kilometres away, was measured 5,5 on the Richter scale. According to Association for International Water and Forest Studies, FIVAS, a crack in the dam will, whether it is caused by earthquake or flood, result in the greatest flood in the history of civilised man.
In 1984, then Norwegian prime minister Kåre Willoch visited Malaysia. Joining him were representatives from the Norwegian hydro power expertise - among others STK, which later merged with Alcatel. Several agreements were signed in connection with other hydro power projects. At this time, the plans for the Bakun dam construction had come a long way already, but in 1990 they were abandoned by the authorities - due to economical as well as environmental concerns. Then, as today, the project was met with massive criticism.
The plans for the Bakun dam have been revived as an important part of prime minister Mahathir's «Vision 2020», wherein the goal is that Malaysia be fully industrialised by the year 2020.
Dyno and Alcatel STK in Malaysia
Dyno Industrier A/S owns 30% of the shares in the explosives producer company Tenaga Kimia Sdn. Bhd. The Malaysian state owns 40%, while the rest is controlled by private Malaysian investors. The three major shareholders in Dyno are Hydro Invest A/S, Orkla A/S and Folketrygdfondet.
Alcatel STK's involvement with the Bakun project is through Alcatel Kabel Norge AS. Majority owner of Alcatel STK is Alcatel Cable SA (France), controlling 80%. Norwegians own approximately 10%, Orkla being the biggest with 2,9%.
Norwatch Newsletter 4/96