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Double ‘green energy’ threat to Borneo tribes’ rainforest

Double ‘green energy’ threat to Borneo tribes’ rainforest

As environment ministers from around the world meet in Mexico for the UN climate change conference, tribes in the rainforests of Borneo are facing a double ‘green energy’ threat as hydroelectric dams destroy their rivers and their forests are cleared for palm oil plantations.

Tribes in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, reacted with horror when the huge Rajang river shrank to a trickle, after it was blocked in October to flood the state’s notorious Bakun dam.

Ten thousand indigenous people were displaced to make way for the Bakun dam, and the Sarawak government plans to build 12 more hydroelectric dams across the state. The drying up of the Rajang has increased alarm among Sarawak’s tribes about these plans.

Around 1,000 members of the hunter-gatherer Penan tribe have been told they must move to make way for the Murum dam, the first of the 12 new dams. A ‘social and environmental impact assessment’ is being prepared for the Murum dam – but construction of the dam is already well underway.

The area of rainforest that the Penan say they would be prepared to move to is being rapidly cleared by the palm oil company Shin Yang to make way for its plantations. Palm oil is used for biofuel and in many foods and cosmetics.

‘We have found out that Shin Yang Company has started clearing and felling the forest for oil palm plantation in Metalon River area without our consent… We want our forest in these areas to be preserved,’ says Penan man Ramlie Bujang.

Palm oil plantations already cover huge areas of Sarawak which were until recently cloaked in thick forest.

Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The destruction of Sarawak’s rainforests and rivers is ruining the lives of the Penan and other tribal people. It’s deeply ironic – and tragic – that this is being done in the name of ‘green’ energy.’

Read Survival's reports on how hydroelectric dams and climate change mitigation measures affect tribal peoples.

ENDS

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