I'll be the first person to declare that I'm all for progress and economic development. But, at the same time, I'll be the first person to declare that progress cannot come at too high a price.
Malaysiakini has reported that Sarawak's plan to build 12 hydroelectric dams, including one that is near the Mulu Caves may threaten the World Heritage status of the Mulu National Park, environmentalists have warned. See http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/86613
SCORE and the strategy for Sarawak's economic development
The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy carries the acronym SCORE. The SCORE programme is targeted at harnessing the hydroelectric generation potential of the great rivers of Sarawak and, to use the vast amount of electrical power for the heavy industries that consume gigawatts of electricity. That explains the master plan for constructing 12 dams.
Certainly, the direct investment of the likes of China’s Luneng Group, Smelter Asia Sdn Bhd, Alcoa Inc, Mitsubishi Corp, BHP Billiton Ltd and Australia’s Rio Tinto in addition to Press Metal Bhd will create jobs for Sarawakians. The billions of Ringgit in foreign direct investment will be staggering.
Some spots of bother to be considered by the Sarawak state government and the Environment Ministry
There are, however, some spots of bother that need some ventilation. One has been highlighted by the venerable M'sian environmental warrior, Gurmit Singh whose views have been quoted in the Star Online report entitled, Sarawak to build 12 dams to meet future power needs.
I wish to add to Gurmit Singh's point about potential environment hazards by referring to the travails of BHP Billiton Ltd (one of the "interested parties" named in the Star Online report) in respect of their OK Tedi Copper Mine in Papua New Guinea. 13,000 villagers have filed a class-action suit for USD4 billion against BHP as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2007; PNG villagers sue BHP, Ok Tedi miners. Their complaint was for the destruction of their traditional lands along 38km of their river and, their suffering from tonnes and tonnes of arsenic, copper, zinc and other heavy metals dumped into this once pristine habitat where they had lived since time immemorial. This is a familiar complaint. Sadly, it is a very real complaint.
The aluminium smelting industry
The industrial process to convert bauxite to aluminium requires an incredible amount of electrical energy. This makes the SCORE proposition especially inviting to the aluminium smelters throughout the world. In particular, another "interested party" named in the Star Online report, Alcoa Inc is ranked 9th in the Political Economy Research Institute's (PERI) Toxic 100 of 2002.
The company is reported to have released 9.88 million pounds of toxic air in 2002. In April 2003, Alcoa Inc in the US, agreed to spend an estimated $330 million to install a new coal-fired power plant with state-of-the-art pollution controls to eliminate the vast majority of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from the power plant at Alcoa's aluminum production facility in Rockdale, Texas.
The out-of-court settlement was the ninth case the US Bush Administration pursued to bring the coal-fired power plant industry into full compliance with the US Clean Air Act.
Alcoa was found to have unlawfully operated the Rockdale facility since it overhauled the Rockdale power plant without installing necessary pollution controls and without first obtaining proper permits required by "New Source Review" program of the Clean Air Act.
In February 1999, Alcoa cleaned soils and sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and lead at the York Oil federal Superfund site in Moira, New York in accordance with the dictates of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Read more HERE.
Another spot of bother: NCR Land and the displacement of native communities
The construction of hydroelectric dams in Sarawak always result in a head-on collision with native communities. I have written about the displacement of Sarawak native communities due to logging and oil palm plantations on numerous occasions under the label of NCR ad nauseum. But, the issue is very real. I firmly predict that the issue of NCR land may well be the tipping point for the toppling of the Sarawak BN government.
Rent-seeking possibilities galore
I don't really have to spell out the rent-seeking possibilities arising from these projects, do I?
Is this form of progress worth paying the price for?
This is the question that I want to pose for anyone who cares to read this blog; Is this form of progress worth paying the price for?