Bakun dam and its settlers
By Patricia Hului
Almost 20 years ago in 1997 to 1999, some 11,000 people from 15 longhouses bid goodbye to their homes located in Batang Balui to make space for the concrete-faced rockfill Bakun dam.
Uma Belor was one of the longhouses whose residents left their ancestral land for new life in Sungai Asap, 60km away from the dam site.
According to Sarawak Hidro operations and maintenance general manager Anuar Abu Bakar, the catchment area of the dam covers an area of about 14,750km2 or 11 per cent of Sarawak equivalent to the size of Kelantan.
Meanwhile the reservoir has a surface area of 695km2, approximately the size of Singapore.
The Bakun reservoir spans Batang Balui, Sungai Murum, Sungai Pelepeh, Sungai Bahau and Sungai Linau.
Emang Lawai, 86, reminisced on the day he had to move away from Batang Balui.
“They provided us with lorries and cars to move all our belongings. It took us one day to move all of our stuff and we even brought along our pigs and chickens.”
Some longhouses such as Uma Juman scavenged what part of the structure they could dismantle to reuse in their new home.
But it was a different case for Uma Belor. Emang said they just left the longhouse the way it was.
“When we arrived here in Sungai Asap, the longhouses were already built and they just pointed to us which ‘bilik’ was ours.”
His personal understanding on the cause of the resettlement was better accessibility.
“The government moved us here so there is accessibility, so that we are nearer to schools,” Emang said, “Back at the old longhouse in Batang Balui, we had only one primary school. Here at Sungai Asap resettlement area, we even have a secondary school.”
SMK Bakun being the only secondary school there caters for students up to form five while there are two primary schools; SK Batu Keling and SK Long Gang.
But the farmer still longed for his old home which now lies at the bottom of the Bakun reservoir.
“Of course I would prefer to live there (Batang Balui). There were so many animals to hunt, so many fish to catch. Here we keep on spending money to buy meat to eat.”
Higo Anye, 70, shared his disappointment on resettling to Sungai Asap, adding that his reason was a lack of land allocation for settlers.
According to Higo, each ‘pintu’ was only provided with three acres of land.
“Let’s say if you have children and grandchildren, for example, how many acres can you pass on to them with those three acres?”
To earn a living, Higo fully relies on farming and like Emang, no longer goes out in the wild to hunt for animals and collect wild vegetables.
“We sell the vegetables at the nearby market. For those who have children doing well in their careers such as working in the government, they would receive money.
“Some of us we still have to earn our money at this age in order to feed ourselves,” he added.
As for Uma Belor’s Women Bureau chief Christina Tubit, the relocation left life easier for her and her family.
“Back at the old longhouse in Batang Balui, we had to use longboat to go to schools,” she said.
Life is easy for the mother of four as basic facilities such as clinics and markets were also accessible by car.
Remembering the old longhouse, Christina shared:“The nearest clinic was located in Uma Nyaving, we had to go by river to go there.”
In the Sungai Asap resettlement area, there are three clinics located nearby, namely Klinik Kesihatan Sungai Asap, Klinik Kesihatan Sungai Koyan and Klinik Kesihatan Uma Sambop, which is a 30-minute drive away.
In an effort to diversify the local people’s income, Uma Belor is listed in the homestay programme by the Ministry of Tourism.
Christina’s was one of the 12 homes in the longhouse that ran the programme.
So far she has welcomed tourists from West Malaysia, Japan and even South Korea to her home.
Bakun Dam today
Standing tall at 205m, the Bakun Hydroelectric Power Plant located about 180km from Bintulu was deemed a major catalyst in transforming Sarawak’s economy by providing up to 2,400 megawatts to meet industrial demands.
Former chief minister and current Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud cited the RM7.2 billion dam as a major step forward in the development of Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).
Run by Sarawak Hidro, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Minister of Finance Incorporated, the dam was finally completed and commissioned in 2014.
On March 15, a delegation of 50 representatives from Department of Information and various media agencies made a working visit to Bakun dam as part of the department’s Kembara Media 2016 Sarawak programme.
The visit was also organised to generate publicity about Bakun dam and at the same time maintain close contact with the media industry.
The group was briefed on how Sarawak Hidro manages its power station, reservoir management, hydro-engineering mechanisms, energy production and risk management, also managing to make a visit to the dam powerhouse and its spillway.
Giving back to the community
It is undeniable that Sarawak Hidro has been doing its part to give back to the local communities, especially those in the resettlement areas.
Anuar assured Kembara Media delegates that any locals who are qualified will be employed by Sarawak Hidro.
“Now, with more than 200 employees, about 65 per cent of our staff are Sarawakians and 30 per cent are people from Sungai Asap,” he said.
Corporate Services general manager Faisal Shahbudin said Sarawak Hidro is always concerned and tried its best to be helpful with regards to Sungai Asap settlers’ economy and education.
For instance earlier this year, the company handed out more than 300 school bags to SMK Bakun form one students.
“Alhamdulillah, last year we spent about RM1 mil on our projects to help the local people. We will continue do our part through our CSR programmes.”