A New Problem -
Dams and the Power of Development
Hydro-electric dams, as shown in other parts of the world where large-scale
projects have been undertaken, have had enormous environmental and social
impacts. Plans exist for West Papua's Mamberamo River to be dammed in order
to provide electricity for an aluminiurn smelter. The smelter is to be
operated by a Canadian company, and its construction will in turn see the
development of an industrial zone, in the pristine northern region presently
inhabited by isolated tribes.
Professor Otto Soemarwoto, an Indonesian
ecologist has said of the Asahan Dam in Sumatra:"...development has been
too much emphasised for national growth. The local people have been viewed
as constraints for the development projects ... resettlement schemes are in
fact devices to alleviate these constraints. The projects are not conceived
to benefit the local people, but people in cities and foreigners."
and subsequent to the dam's construction, large areas of land are flooded
and made uninhabitable, with a potential for the spread of water-borne diseases
and malaria in the tropical environment. The people first and most directly
affected will be those groups which require relocation. To be moved away from
ancestral homes is especially difficult for isolated populations. The stress
of relocation is indicated by a rise in morbidity rates. This applies especially
to the very young and the very old. A population's resistance to illness is
lowered because of the very real stress accompanying resettlement and because
of sudden changes in food consumption.
Almost 90 per cent of Mamberamo people
are illiterate. Tribal groups include the Bauzi, who live by catching fish and
crocodiles in the rivers and lakes, hunting in the forests or collecting wild
fruits. The presence of the military in Mamberamo since 1985 with a "cooperative"
crocodile business, has had a great sociological impact, especially on the local
women. With tobacco, sugar and coffee as payment for this work, the troops force
the local men to catch crocodile for weeks away from their villages, leaving the
wives vulnerable to the needs of the local troops. Existing regional health
standards are already low, and may be compounded by the influx of foreign
construction and semi-skilled workers.
It would seem far more beneficial to West
Papua's long term development if a hydroelectric scheme very much smaller than
10,000 MW was developed in the Mamberamo area. Power generation throughout the
rural areas could bring about the development of local industries and the
electrification of villages. Even with the Mamberamo Dam, small scale micro-hydro
schemes would be required if these needs were to be met, as Mamberamo power is
intended to provide power solely to an industrial complex and new urban development.
Minister for Research and Technology, Professor B J Habibie, is seeking out
investors for the Mamberamo Dam project, and visited Australia in May, 1995.
"Indigenous peoples shall
not be forcibly
removed from their
lands or territories.
No relocation shall
take place without
the free and informed
consent of the
concerned and after
agreement on just
and fair compensation
and, where possible,
with the option of
on the Rights
People, The United
on Human Rights
To be dammed - the Mamberamo River