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Carol Yong Ooi Lin. Flowed Over: the Babagon Dam and the Resettlement of Kadazandusuns in Sabah.

Carol Yong Ooi Lin. Flowed Over: The Babagon Dam and the Resettlement of Kadazandusuns in Sabah. Subang Jaya: Center for Orang Asli Concerns, 2003. xviii +217 pp., maps, figures, plates, glossary, bibliography. ISBN 983-40042-8-1

Facts are stubborn things. This books starts with the fact that Malaysia has built, and continues to build, large dams. As is well known, dams often usurp the livelihoods and human rights of rural, indigenous people. Some of the dams in Sabah are the Pinangsoo, completed in 1969; the Sepagaya, 1984; and the Babagon, 1997. Sarawak has the Batang Ai Dam, 1981: the Sika, 1983; and the ongoing Bakun Dam project. Dozens of more dams are contemplated for Malaysia as a whole over the next few years.

What do all these dams signify for the rich and poor, the environment, and the political process? In this book, Carol Yong studies these questions in terms of the Babagon Dam and associated forest destruction. This dam is part of a large commercially run project for supplying drinking water to the state capitol, Kota Kinabalu, and nearby areas.

The unquantified but heavy social and environmental costs of dams became recognized world-wide in the 1980s and 1990s. Their economic costs, as opposed to benefits, have also been acknowledged. Low-tech options such as drip irrigation for market gardening and rainwater collection for drinking water are now increasingly considered in a favorable light. Such options are ecologically saner, relying on existing water sources instead of endless mega-dams.

The Sabah state government expropriated Kampung Tampasak land to make way for the Babagon Dam, resettling the evictees in 1994. Until Yong's field work in 1997, no study of this forced resettlement existed. She first documented the events leading from dam planning to the post-dam situation. Throughout her study, she paid particular attention to the destabilizing effects on village women, since women had been largely ignored in resettlement policies and reports in many countries. Yong's social-impact assessment shows just how dictatorial and secretive "development" can be. It also shows how development of the rich and urban environment can degrade the poor and rural one. This development-degradation coupling has become an increasingly uncomfortable fact on the global stage, and Yong's report reveals many lapses on the part of government and its business partners in pursuit of the development dream. These lapses run from disorganization to ineptitude, seemingly even to indifference to the villagers' rights and needs.

That nothing might be wanting in this book, Yong first provides a global and state-level perspective on dams and resettlements, as well as a literature review, before turning to survey her study village in Chapter 3. Chapters 4 and 5 give the recent history of the Tampasak community, especially in terms of women's lives and gender relations at the family and community levels. Once the villagers discovered what would be imposed on them in the early days of this dam project, they protested many aspects of it in peaceful and thoughtful ways, but were essentially ignored. Some, notably women, protested in meetings and demonstrations against the entire project. However, in 1995 the villagers were forced to evacuate their old village area under an ultimatum order. Despite the fact that some public services were soon provided in the resettlement area, 83% of the now relocated families were against resettlement, mainly because of the loss of their communal forest and farming areas. By 1998 many of the relocated families said they wanted to move out of the cramped resettlement space.

The final chapter, Chapter 6, turns naturally to suggestions for the future on the question of resettlement. As Yong points out (pp. 164-169), there is a clear need in Malaysia and elsewhere for binding legislation that requires fair dealing when state or federal governments usurp traditional, but often untitled, lands and relocate communities permanently elsewhere. (A. S. Baer, Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA)
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Author:Baer, A.S.
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:645
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