Saying she was not given the whole picture during a visit last year, civil society groups have written to Britain’s Princess Anne (pictured) urging her to use her royal influence to help indigenous people in Malaysia displaced by a new hydroelectric dam.
How are they supposed to make a living? There are hardly any job opportunities at the resettlement sites– Letter to Princess Anne
The groups penned a letter this week to the Princess Royal, daughter of Queen Elizabeth, alleging that the company behind the new Murum Dam, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), had obscured the true situation of resettled indigenous people when she visited SEB’s headquarters in Sarawak in October last year, just after the dam had been inaugurated.
The letter claims that although three years have passed since communities were evicted to make way for construction of the $923m mega structure, the government had yet to deliver the compensation package promised.
After her visit, local grassroots network Save Rivers went to the resettlement sites of Tegulang and Metalun and found that families there were still waiting to receive the promised 14 hectares of land per family for farming, reports news agency Asian Correspondent, which received a copy of the letter.
"We are concerned that you were not given the full information about the fate of the Penan communities displaced by the Murum Dam," the letter said.
Anne, Princess Royal, pictured during the Chatham House Prize 2015 award ceremony (Chatham House/Creative Commons)
The people had also been deprived of access to primary forest for hunting, said Save Rivers.
"How are they supposed to make a living? There are hardly any job opportunities at the resettlement sites," said Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, the agency reported.
"We sincerely hope that Princess Anne will raise these concerns with Sarawak Energy," he added.
Other signatories to the letter included Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fonds, US-based The Borneo Project, and International Rivers.
Princess Anne’s visit to SEB occurred shortly after the hydroelectric power station began operations in September 2016.
At the time SEB said the plant will provide up to 944MW of electricity for Sarawak, and that it will help generate higher income for Sarawak by 2030.
The dam took a team of 2,500 people to complete, SEB said, and was innovative in its design, having the tallest steeped chute spillway in the world.
SEB also praised the project’s social aspects.
"Murum HEP has changed the socio-economic landscape of the Murum area especially the livelihood of the people directly benefiting from this project," said Sarawak Energy Chairman Datuk Amar Abdul Hamed Sepaw said during the dam’s inauguration.
"We have a strong commitment to continue to work together with villagers from Murum and partner agencies to raise living standards and preserve the cultural heritage at the same time," he added.
Hamed said seven villages in the resettlement areas now enjoy 24-hour electricity, clean water and access to telecommunications.
Claiming to have followed international resettlement standards, he cited "significant progress" in better housing, access to medical care and education, an increase in literacy, technical training for youth, and entrepreneurship activity.
The NGOs, however, remain far from happy, and want Princess Anne to use her royal influence.
"We kindly ask you to acknowledge these facts and use your influence to help improve the situation of the people displaced by the Murum Dam," their letter said. "Please engage SEB regarding these very important matters."
Top image: The $923m Muru Dam, inaugurated in September 2016 (UNIMAS Sarawak/Creative Commons)