Malaysia // Sarawak //

The Bakun Dam


The massive Bakun hydroelectric dam (, 37km east of Belaga on the Balui tributary of the Rejang, has been dogged by controversy since the project got the go-ahead in the 1990s. The 200-metre-high dam was designed to generate 2400 megawatts – much more power than Sarawak could use – but construction would flood an area of rainforest the size of Singapore, displacing ten thousand Orang Ulu and destroying many thriving longhouses.

Furious environmentalists and human-rights campaigners asked what was the point, and for years their concerns seemed vindicated as the dam was beset by delays. First, the Asian economic crisis of 1997 put the project on hold, but even so the government continued to resettle local communities to Asap, two hours’ drive along the logging road connecting Belaga with the coast. When construction resumed it lumbered on until, in mid-2011, the dam finally began operation. However, it will not run at anything near capacity, since there is still no obvious market for the surplus power (one idea, to lay a submarine cable to Peninsular Malaysia, would be technically challenging and prohibitively expensive). Despite this, yet another dam is already being built just upriver at Long Murum, and there’s talk of building yet more dams on the Rejang and Baram rivers.

Attempts have already begun to create tourist facilities at the dam lake, as has been tried with limited success at Batang Ai and Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu. Sibu’s tourist office has details of a Kenyah longhouse that accepts guests, and whose inhabitants have a fishing lodge on the lake itself.

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