Malaysia's large, intact rainforests in the province of Sarawak, on the Island of Borneo, are nearly exhausted, and most of what remains is to be cleared and converted into industrial monocultures of oil palm and acacia trees, or flooded under hydro-electric dams. Malaysia is the world's leading rainforest destroying nation, globally exporting industrial ecocide to virtually every rainforest worldwide. But increasingly they are encountering resistance, as this network recently successfully stopped (for now) the Malaysian government's oil palm expansion into the heart of the Amazon. And for more than two years, the indigenous Penan community of Long Benali, armed with spears and blowpipes, have successfully prevented the bulldozers of the Samling group from encroaching onto their native customary lands.
Since 1960, Malaysian timber and oil palm companies have mercilessly plundered Sarawaks's rainforests which are the rightful home of the Penan indigenous peoples. Malaysia's rainforests and fate of the Penan were once a cause célèbre amongst progressive activists -- yet sadly their plight has largely faded from global public view. Yet, Malaysia continued to lose 1.49 million hectares, or 6.6 percent of its forest cover, from 1990 to 2005. The last forested areas large enough to support the Penan's nomadic traditional hunter-gather lifestyles are now falling victim to bulldozers. Some 10,000-12,000 Penan are believed to remain in Sarawak, about 400 of whom are nomadic. Continued industrial rainforest destruction has driven many to settle down into rural poverty and caused increasing problems with disease, alcoholism and sexual assault.
Driving this loss of species, genetics, ecosystems and peoples is the world's growing population and hunger for endless growth of consumption in cheap palm oil, paper and electricity. The Sarawak state government wants to expand the acreage devoted to oil palm to 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) by 2010, from 744,000 at the end of 2008. Companies that formerly chopped down hardwood trees and exported the timber are now moving into palm plantations. Oil palm can be used for food, chemicals, and biofuels; and acacia trees provide raw materials for the voracious paper industry. About 35% of the world’s cooking oil comes from palm, more than any other plant, and 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sarawak's rainforests and peoples are further threatened by ill-conceived plans for a string of rainforest destroying hydro-electric dams. Environmentalists have opposed the Bakun dam on the Balui River in Sarawak for years -- the first and largest of the dams -- as it will flood 700 square kilometres of rainforest. The area is already being cleared using fire, violating Malaysian legislation against open burning, and thickening the blanket of polluting haze that hangs over the region. Further plans call for a network of 12 hydroelectric dams to be built across Sarawak’s rainforests by 2020 with a capacity to produce 7,000MW. By 2037, as many as 51 dams could be constructed. The project will create one of the largest hydropower complexes outside China and will be developed by the China Three Gorges Project Corporation.
Far from being a source of "clean" energy, such large dams flood massive pristine forested areas, produce large-scale carbon dioxide and methane emissions from rotting vegetation, severely affect river hydrology, displace thousands of indigenous people, and fragment forests affecting endangered and endemic plants and wildlife. Construction of the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam has been called a "monument of corruption." CMS -- like much of the timber and oil palm industry -- is owned by the family of Sarawak’s long-standing chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud. Development projects such as plantations and dams are not reducing poverty amongst local peoples.
The courageous Penan are making a final valiant effort to protect their last forested areas from notorious criminal enterprises like Samling, Hill International, Shin Yang, KTS, CMS and Rimbunan Hijau. Recently some 3,000 indigenous residents have blocked several main roads leading to their rainforests, and are determined to do anything to resist. Please join with them and thousands of other global citizens, and write to the Malaysian government and ask for the recognition of land rights of the Penan and the immediate halt to the rainforest clearing in Sarawak for dams, paper and oil palm. Let them known intact, large old rainforests are a requirement to halt climate change, biodiversity loss, and to achieve local, regional and global community development and ecological sustainability
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