MIRI: Peter Kallang, a member of Sarawak’s indigenous Kenyah community, received the 2019 Seacology Prize recently for leading a successful campaign to halt the building of a series of mega-dams in Borneo.
The Seacology Prize is awarded annually to a person who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.
Sarawak is home to some of the world’s most critically endangered and bio-diverse forests. Indigenous communities, including the Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan, who have lived in harmony with their environment for generations, now face encroachment by timber companies and palm oil plantations.
According to Kallang, a huge threat came from Sarawak’s largest-ever industrialisation project for 12 mega-dams – the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).
“The SCORE plan included the Baram dam, which would have displaced 20,000 Kenyah people and flooded 400 square kilometres of rainforest,” he said
In 2011, when he was 61, Kallang, a life-long campaigner for the people of Sarawak and previously a Shell engineer, became the chairman of Save Rivers, a Sarawak non-governmental organisation (NGO). He immediately focused on stopping the Baram dam.
With the support from community leaders, he galvanised protests and demonstrations, including river flotillas in towns and remote rural areas. The largest of these protests were two concurrent two-year blockades.
One blockade prevented the building of the access road to the proposed site of the Baram dam while the other stopped all pre-construction at the site.
Simultaneously, Kallang was raising awareness and building coalitions internationally, and also confronting investor audiences in Australia and Norway.
He also enlisted experts to prove to government and international funders that a better future lay with small-scale renewable energy projects which would provide long-term community and environment benefits rather than mass displacement and environmental destruction. In 2016, the government capitulated and the Baram dam was cancelled.
Duane Silverstein, Seacology’s executive director, described Kallang as a disciplined, passionate and thoughtful leader.
“He is a committed activist and a courageous champion of indigenous rights who has endured attacks to his reputation, risks to his freedom, and even rifts within his own family and friends because of his outspoken position against destructive development.
“His approach and courage are an inspiration to all island communities seeking to protect their lands and ways of life,” said Duane who flew in from the USA to present the prize to Kallang at Marriott Hotel here yesterday.
Also present was Seacology programme manager Mary Randolph.