08/30/2010, 00.00
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Sabah: new hydroelectric dam to force 1,400 families from their homes

by Jeremy Lim
New structure is set to provide water and electrical power to the capital of the Malaysian state at the cost of US$ 900 million. Residents protest but the government claims “the project benefits the people”.
Kota Kinabalu (AsiaNews) – Villagers in the Kaiduan Valley, Sabah, in Malaysia’s northern Borneo region, are protesting against a decision to build a hydroelectric dam that would force 1,400 families off their land. The Kaiduan dam, which will built in a forested area and provide water and electricity to the capital city of Kota Kinabalu, will cost US$ 900 million and result in the loss of farms, clinics, schools, ecotourism sites, graveyards and churches.

Residents in the Kaiduan valley are mostly Christian and in June built a blockade to stop preliminary work on the dam. They also raised a 1.8-metre wooden cross where the dam is set to be built.

“We are 100 per cent against this project and we will continue to defend our customary rights over this land,” said John Sobitang, a local village chief.

The loss of their ancestral lands will be all the more painful because the villagers worked hard to improve the infrastructure connecting their jungle home to the outside world. Villagers erected their own electric poles, which bring energy from a micro-hydroelectric turbine in the river. Thus, they now have electricity, television, satellite phones and computers with access to the internet.

The government has rejected criticism, saying that the project is necessary because the present water supply will fall short of demand after 2010.

“My Ministry will also monitor the development of the study and ensure the negative effects would be minimised and that the project benefits the people”, said Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

Affected villagers would be compensated with land, houses and basic amenities, he explained.

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