Bruno Manser Fonds
Sarawak, 13 August 2000
Concerns over Borneo Pulp and Paper tree plantation
Concerns compiled by IDEAL with communities concerned
13 August 1999 - Borneo Pulp and Paper Sdn. Bhd. (BPP) - a joint venture company between Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (PUSAKA - newsletter of STIDC, a Sarawak Government entity) and Asia Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd. (APP), a NYSE listed company based in Singapore, appointed a new team of top management recently.
The Corporation appointed four new executive since 1 January 1999:
None of them seem to be Malaysian.
The company revealed in May that at present, BPP has planted 2,500 hectares of Acacia tree since the project took off in May 1997. BPP's land area covers over 200,000 hectares with investment of over RM 5 billion. Their tree planting is expected to speed up by next year, said the deputy General Manager of BPP. (Borneo Post 20/5/99)
However, the ambition of the state government in tree plantation is likely to continue ignoring the local people's rights especially toward the right of native customary land (NCR).
At Sg, Bawang / Sg. Kemena, where 230 families belonging to 23 Longhouses, located between 70 - 87th mile of the Sibu-Bintulu road, protested against the encroachment of the phase one of the BPP tree plantation.
The longhouse people set up a blockade on 9 January 1999 after a 'miring' (traditional religious ceremony). They complained that their customary land was not respected and that the plantation had destroyed their farm land and fruit garden. They also complained that the streams that they depended on for drinking and washing has been polluted by the plantation activities.
The community's demands for compensation of the disturbance of peace and harmony with nature and crop damages has not materialised.
This is seen by the Indigenous Dayak people as a violation of their 'adat' (traditional customs).
They sent a memorandum in November 1998 to urge the government to repeal the three thousand hectares of customary land granted to the plantation company.
They have also filed a court injunction against the company in February 1999.
Though the plantation work was halted temporary in their NCR land, there is no permanent solution yet.
A total of around 60,000 hectares of NCR land is designated for two species of Acacia, introduced from Australia.
The monocrop plantation is causing concern not just to the environmental impacts due to chemical inputs, but also potential risk of disease which is found in the rotting of the trunk in some parts of Sarawak.
If these lands are to be developed, a total indigenous population of more than 17,000 from 180 longhouses would be affected.
The affected areas include Kemena, Tatau, Kakus and Anap of Bintulu Division according to the Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Proposed Forest Plantation, dated August 1996.
Borneo Pulp and Paper project involves some RM 7.22 billion of investment and it claimed to offer between 15,000 to 18,000 job opportunities.
In April 1999, vice president of the Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS - a component party of the ruling coalition governemnt), Dr. James Masing expressed his concern over the resettlement of the affected people. Masing who is also the Minister of Tourism called for a masterplan on the resettlement (Borneo Post 25/04/99).
The pulp mill also affect 277 families of 12 longhouses at the upper Tatau River, some 45 km south of Bintulu. This is another point of concern. According to the project environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted in August 1996, three of the affected longhouses needed to be resettled.
In a press interview recently (Sarawak Tribune 11/08/99), the State Secretary, Humid Bugo said that there will be altogether 15 longhouses affected by the mill construction, with the three needed to be resettled moving in September to the new longhouses at the resettlement site about 5 km away.
According to the State Secretary, each family of the 30 households will be given 3 acres of land in the resettlement area for purposes of farming as provided for in an earlier Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Land & Survey Department and representatives of the affected longhouses. The other 12 longhouses are also given the option to move out.
The affected communities had earlier formed an action committee in September 1997 when they found out that the clearing of the mill site had started. Their NCR land rights was extinguished in February 1997 by a notice in the Sarawak Government Gazette.
The action committee is fighting for proper compensation and voiced their opposition to the setting up of the pulp mill in their lands in a press statement. (Sin Chew Jit Poh 01/11/97). They feared that the influx of workers from other places would threaten their livelihood and culture, such as destruction of forest and river resources, and bringing in new diseases.
In the last Sarawak State Assembly sitting in May 1999, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Alfred Jabu revealed that the government had agreed to pay a total of RM 11 Million for the 1,850 hectares of NCR land. He said of the 357 claimants, 280 had accepted the compensation while the rest had resorted to arbitration as provided for under the land code. (Borneo Post 19/05/99)
Pulp mill is known to be a highly polluting industry, especially its chemical discharges. It can also cause erosion and sedimentation problem.
There is wide concern among the downstream inhabitants over the safety of their water supply and the impact on the fishing community at the estuary of the Kemena River. Noise pollution would also cause hazard to the surrounding communities and other risk of accidents would all combine to pose threats to the people affected.
The State Secretary also revealed that the paper mill, which is the first of its kind in the country, would have a production capacity of 500 metric tonnes per year during the first phase with the option to scale up to 1,000 metric tonnes in the second phase.
He said the mill system would be similar to the one in Balikpapan of South Kalimantan, Indonesia, that was environment-friendly as the water flowing out of the plant was channelled through a pond where fish was reared. (Sarawak Tribune 11/08/99)
As there is no specification on the Balikpapan mill, there is no way for an independent assessment of its performance. However, back in 1993, a Canadian pulp mill, Alberta-Pacific (Alpac) Forest Industries advertised itself as "the safest mill in Canada". In the so called LC50 test, if less than 50% of the fish die in 96 hours, the effluent passes the test. The company used non native tough gold fish in testing the toxicity of pulp mill effluent to claim their credibility.
However, attention can be drawn to the article in the Ecologist (Vol 27 No 2, 1997 p.65), "Some Consequences of Cheap Trees and Cheap Talk" which pointed out that using death as an indicator of environmental harm ignores the fact that fish and other animals may be debilitated and essentially ecologically dead by conditions far below those which kill it in four days.
"Alpac's image of a healthy aquarium draws attention away from the actual river with a complex set of natural conditions... It does not consider the long-term and inter-generational effects of organochlorines on the health of fish, and it ignores the cumulative impact of effluent from all the mills on the river system."