By Loo Ai Choo and Hsu Yen Pin


In Malaysia, the population growth and rapid pace of economic development have led to continuous high demand for water and put intense pressure on the available resources.  Compounding this situation are the seasonal variations and deterioration of water quality that have impeded the efficient use of river water.  To ensure a reliable yield of water for supply to domestic and industrial sectors or for agriculture, the building of dams is often the preferred option due to the many benefits which their reservoirs offer, by storing water in times of surplus and dispensing it in times of scarcity.

While large dams have contributed to human development and economic growth through the provision of reliable water supply, their benefits have come at a price in social and environmental terms especially to those within the confines of the river reaches.  In many cases dams have displaced large populations and cause significant and often irreversible impacts on the rivers and its ecosystems, albeit the decision to build dams for the management of water resources are often well justified technically and economically.  For reasons of meeting rapidly growing needs for water and energy in developing countries such as Malaysia, dams have been built and perhaps, will continue to be built.  However, public interests is slowly shifting from one that placed emphasis on overriding interests of economic growth to one that places more rights and interests on the communities and the environment affected by the development.  In view of the impacts that water resources and water supply projects can have on the environment, respecting the fundamental rights of the affected groups should be foremost from the early planning stage of development.