Dams and Landslides

Stop the Hutiaoxia dam!

September 26, 2004

Endorsed by Green Earth Volunteers, Institute of Environment and Development, Green Island, Global Village of Beijing, Friends of Nature, Partnership for Community Development, Global Environment Institute, Alashan SEE Ecology Association and Beijing Brooks Education Centre.

In the renewed hydropower boom in southwest China, Hutiaoxia (Tiger Leaping Gorge) dam is the leading project in the plans for a cascade of dams on the Jinsha River(Upper Yangtze River). Recently, Yunnan Province even designated the dams as the supplementary water source for Kunming area, hoping the water from the Jinsha River can be used to flush away pollution in Dianchi Lake. With support from both hydropower authority and provincial government, the Hutiaoxia dam is rapidly going ahead. We now call on authorities to address the cultural, social and environmental impacts of dam building before proceeding with the project. We call for a halt to the project to prevent damages to the cultural and natural heritage, causing social instability and economic loss.

The proposed Hutiaoxia Dam would be located northeast of Shigu town on the Jinsha River, cutting across the Yulong and Haba Snow Mountains. The difference in altitude between the river’s surface and mountaintop is over 3,000 m. The width of the valley ranges from 30-60 m. It is one of the deepest valleys in the world. The gorgeous scenery of Hutiaoxia has special aesthetic value for our future generations. It is also one of the major reasons why the Three Parallel Rivers site is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It should be taken seriously and properly protected. Construction of the dam will be detrimental to the authenticity and integrity of the World Heritage site.

The Jinsha river valley is one of the most important stops along the famous Tea Horse Ancient Trail (Cha Ma Gu Dao). Ancient towns like Shigu and Judian and the traditional village architecture like Chezhou, Wuzhu and Cike are still well protected. This area, which contains the first bend of the Yangtze River, witnessed some major historical events in ancient China. Ethnic minority groups like the Naxi, Zang (Tibetan), Bai, Yi, Miao (Hmong) and Lisu have been lived here since ancient times and created a shining cultural past. Cultural heritage sites are distributed across the riparian river valley. Once the dam is built, these will be inundated under water. The damages will be irreplaceable.

In recent years, the hydropower boom in southwest China has caused a series of problems, leading to the frequent petitions of dam migrants and even confrontations. Upstream of Hutiaoxia is a river valley plain, which is populated with people and farmland. The local people are not rich but can enjoy basic living. Under the high-dam proposal, nearly 100,000 people would be forced to resettle. If the plain is inundated, people will have to move to the high mountain slopes and grassland. This will substantially reduce agricultural production and living standards. The elderly and disabled would face impacts to their livelihoods and subsistence, which would affect the social stability of ethnic minority communities in the region.

The slopes of Hutiaoxia are steep with soft soil, which is vulnerable to collapse and landslides. Historically, landslides have created blockades in the river. The Jinsha River is located among the active faults of western Sichuan and northwestern Yunnan and risks of strong earthquakes are high. In 1996, the Richter scale 7.0 of earthquake occurred in Lijiang, causing serious casualties and economic loss. The earthquake led to a serious landslide which blocked the Jinsha River. The construction of 37.4 billion cubic meter of reservoir in such an area inevitably makes people worry about its safety.

Therefore, we believe that we should be serious and circumspect about hydropower construction. We should restrain development within limits to avoid serious social and environmental impacts. We must actively seek alternatives, and should not consider the maximisation of power generation as the overwhelming objective. To solve water shortages in central Yunnan and pollution problems in Dianchi Lake, we should promote water saving measures, sewage treatment and the use of recycled water. We should not rely on the expensive inter-basin water transfer as this will lead to tremendous waste and pollution.

We thus call on the authorities to fulfil the vision of science-based development, to properly assess the short-term and long-term benefits, and to balance the human interests against nature, in order to leave our precious world heritage like Hutiaoxia, the first bend of the Yangtze, to the world and to future generations.

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