Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies

The limits of social protection: the case of hydropower dams and Indigenous peoples’ land

By Fadzilah Majid Cooke, Johan Nordensvard, Gusni Bin Saat, and Frauke Urban

Hydropower dams have been criticised for their social and environmental implications. There have been attempts to create international social standards for hydropower dam projects, but these standards have had limited impact. This article uses an extended environmental justice framework to make sense of the resettlement and compensation schemes for Indigenous peoples who were resettled for the construction of the Bakun dam in Borneo, East Malaysia. The article therefore analyses the social protection measures designed for the protection of Indigenous peoples and their livelihoods. The case study is based on in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with local communities, institutional actors in Malaysia, Chinese actors and dam builders. The article concludes that the social protection policies did not protect Indigenous people and their land sufficiently, but it facilitated a commodification process of both land and people. This should also be understood as a colonisation of their land and their cultures.

Photo: International revers on flickr

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