Borneo Project

Earth Island News

Three years in the making, the second community-managed microhydro project on Malaysian Borneo is now up and running! In exchange for a formal commitment to protect upstream rainforests in the buffer zone of Crocker Range National Park of Sabah, the indigenous Dusun community of Terian received funding for a state-of-the-art microhydro turbine with a grant from the Seacology Foundation. The Borneo Project, Green Empowerment, and Partners of Community Organizations (PACOS) of Sabah provided technical training and troubleshooting for appropriate technology selection, system design, and installation. Teams of youths from Raleigh International UK, a British nonprofit working with disadvantaged and at-risk youth, provided additional volunteer labor. Borneo Project volunteers spent several weeks with community “collective work parties” to install the piping system, water catchment tank, powerhouse, turbine, and wiring systems.

photo of a smiling man with a machineCourtesy of PACOSAdrian Lasimbang, a project coordinator for PACOS, with the turbine

Adrian Lasimbang, a coordinator for PACOS who was awarded the SeacologyConservation Prize of 2004 for his work with Terian, was thrilled with the final results. “The water comes out of this system as clean as it went in. By eliminating the use of fossil fuels, we are preventing pollution of their pristine streams, river, and air. The forests in the watershed are now officially protected. Native fruit and timber trees are being planted on slopes formerly used for rice farming.”

The small, quiet turbine now provides six kilowatts of clean electricity to light 50 houses and power school computers, a rice mill, and communal refrigerators for forest produce. Petroleum-powered generators and fuel, which once had to be backpacked in on grueling eight-hour hikes through the mountains, are now obsolete. The community has lived in this roadless watershed for over 100 years, combining subsistence rice farming with generations of indigenous knowledge in natural resource management. Members hunt, fish, and gather dozens of species of plants for food, medicines, building materials, musical instruments, and traditional crafts. All are gathered using traditional protocols of sustainable use and protection. The microhydro project is an initiative by the community to win formal recognition for their Native Customary Land rights, so they may continue to live as they wish, on the lands of their ancestors.

The Terian project is now the second successful microhydro initiative on Borneo. The first, at Long Lawen, Sarawak, dramatically reduced erosion in its industrially logged watershed. The Kenyah longhouse community had been previously evicted from its lands to make way for the Bakun megadam. After forced relocation to a central refugee camp with miserable conditions, the community fled home to find its lands being industrially logged. With help from SahabatAlam Malaysia, the Borneo Project, GreenEmpowerment, and PACOS, they organized to install a microhydro system and brokered an agreement to stop logging and road-building upstream from the turbine. After three years of forest restoration to the degraded area, erosion stopped. The dramatic reduction in siltation of the watershed attracted the attention and praise of local government. In a reversal of past hostilities, Long Lawen’s people were awarded the right to stay on their lands, regardless of their violation of the eviction orders. Their microhydro system, still running smoothly in its fourth year, is inspiring other indigenous communities across Borneo struggling to stay on ancestral lands.

PACOS has now launched a third project in southern Sabah, which will be completed in May 2006.

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