Just last month the world watched aghast at the horrific events that befell the people of the city of Derna in Libya as two dams burst up river from the town during heavy rains.
In a catastrophic cascade of events, the poorly built and then poorly maintained dams erupted in an apocalyptic deluge, unleashing a wave several metres high that swept all before it, creating a death toll estimated to be over 11,000 people and leaving tens of thousands more without water, shelter, medicine or food in the resulting devastation.
What had happened was that the up-river dam had burst first as the years of neglect caused it to succumb to the rains. This had channelled a super-powerful shock wave down river toward the lower lake, itself held back by the second poorly kept dam that was right above the city.
Inevitably, under such unique strain, the structure burst asunder. It all happened in a matter of a few minutes offering no warning and little chance of escape.
The phenomenon is known in the dam construction business as ‘cascading catastrophic failure’ as anyone who has read Sarawak Report over the years will know, since we have been reporting on the warnings by experts that Bakun Dam is in danger of an exact same scenario thanks to the reckless decision by the present Governor, Taib Mahmud, to build Murum Dam upstream of the Bakun lake.
Greedy construction interests and their political cronies could see the value of logging out first Bakun and then Murum, native lands that were packed with unique and precious natural heritage that has now been irreversibly cashed in for dollar notes.
So, the safety concerns provided in impact assessments, drawn up at the time and later accessed by this blog, were simply ignored.
There is worse. For years Sarawak Report has reported on the multiple concerns over poor construction of the massive Bakun dam – the second highest in the entire world second only to the massive Three Gorges Dam in China.
China was still a learner dam builder at the time it sent its engineers out to Sarawak to spread its influence – Europeans had taught them how to build Three Gorges, now they planned to try out their skills on the inhabitants of the Borneo Jungle.
Soon, with the assistance of horrified local engineers, this website was publishing chilling footage and documentation proving the prevalence of sloppy practices in construction of the critical dam wall itself. Watered down concrete to make it easier to spray on and poor quality materials were noted and reported, but nothing done.
The long term potential consequences of such fundamental flaws need no spelling out. At the best prognosis a dam such as Bakun is projected to last for a hundred years, however for those communities who were forced off the site and crammed into the shabby, fire-prone settlement of Sungai Asap downstream there is a real possibility they might themselves outlast this structure.
Sarawak Report has already reported on leaks in the dam wall. And we have reported on the shocking failings of the poorly made turbines that were later inserted into the Murum Dam upstream.
A Norwegian expert report into those failings and how they might impact had been suppressed, but we published it. The poorly finished steel turbines were already pitting and sheering under the strain in warm water meaning that eventually they would start to wobble before flying off their bearings.
Should this be allowed to happen the vast chunks of metal would burst through the wall of the upstream dam (as has already happened in a Russian incident) sending water gushing through the narrow gorge that leads downstream towards the Bakun Lake and the deadly faulty wall that holds it in.
This was the real and present danger highlighted by the experts but then hidden by the state government supposed to protect its people. Around two thirds of Sarawak’s native Dyak communities live downstream of Bakun Lake in the path of a wave that the experts predicted could rise to several hundred feet and wash through the entire basin of Sarawak’s largest mighty river to the sea.
Maybe GPS leaders will say that they have rectified these dangers, quietly behind the scenes? If so, how?
What is for sure is that all the focus of the present leadership as it draws up its latest ‘Green Energy’ plans and initiatives, which are promised to be announced shortly, is on building yet MORE dams, not rectifying the glaring inadequacies of those already there.
Nothing has been done to deliver on the grand promises made during Bakun’s construction that it would improve native lives with free water and electricity for all. When fire comes to Sungai Asap the wooden structures burn to the ground due to lack of running water hydrants and tens of thousands of displaced native communities remain without electricity, road or adequate services and running water.
Yet all that the new promised initiatives are focused on are international deals (and of course more logging of precious timber).
The announcement by the present federal authorities that a tour of inspection of Malaysia’s dam infrastructure has identified serious concerns over the integrity of Bakun – leaking and cracks have been identified – could not therefore have come at a more important moment.
The findings are no surprise, but no longer can Sarawak’s leadership hide from the critical priorities they must address before embarking on any future plans to destroy more the the state through greedy dam construction.
Now Chief Minister Abang Jo has made clear he has the funds, HE MUST FIRST USE THAT MONEY TO REPAIR BAKUN AND SECURE THE SAFETY OF THE PEOPLE OF SARAWAK.