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Malaysian activist Peter Kallang
awarded 2019 Seacology Prize

September 20, 2019

Peter Kallang, a member of Sarawak’s indigenous Kenyah community, is the winner of the 2019 Seacology Prize for leading a successful campaign to halt the building of a series of mega-dams on Borneo. The dams would have flooded vast tracts of land, including pristine rainforests, and dislocated tens of thousands of indigenous people. The Seacology Prize is awarded annually to a person who has shown exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

The Malaysian state of Sarawak is home to some of the world’s most critically endangered and biodiverse forests. Indigenous communities, including the Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan, who have lived in harmony with their environments for generations, now face encroachment by timber companies and palm oil plantations. A huge threat came from Sarawak’s largest-ever industrialization project for 12 mega-dams – the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE). The SCORE plan included the Baram dam, which would have, without consent or consultation, displaced 20,000 Kenyah people and flooded 400 square kilometers of rainforest.

In 2011, when he was 61, Kallang, a lifelong campaigner for the people of Sarawak and previously a Shell engineer became the Chairman of Save Rivers, a Sarawak NGO. He immediately focused on stopping the Baram dam. With the support of community leaders, he galvanized protests and demonstrations, including river flotillas in towns and remote rural areas. The largest of these protests were two concurrent two-year blockades. One blockade prevented the building of the access road to the proposed site of the Baram dam, and the other stopped all preconstruction at the site. Simultaneously, Kallang was raising awareness and building coalitions internationally, and confronting investor audiences in Australia and Norway.

Kallang also enlisted experts to prove to government and international funders that a better future lay with small-scale renewable energy projects, which would provide long-term community and environment benefits, rather than mass displacement and environmental destruction. In 2016, the government capitulated, and the Baram dam was cancelled.

Duane Silverstein, Seacology’s Executive Director, said, “Peter Kallang is a disciplined, passionate and thoughtful leader. He is a committed activist and a courageous champion of indigenous rights who has endured attacks to his reputation, risks to his freedom, and even rifts within his own family and friends because of his outspoken position against destructive development. His approach and courage are an inspiration to all island communities seeking to protect their lands and ways of life.”

Watch the BBC’s profile of Peter below.