March 6, 2007
The Nu River runs through southwest China’s Yunnan province — and the Three Parallel Rivers National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site — before flowing downstream to Burma and Thailand, where it is known as the Salween. It is Southeast Asia’s last major free-flowing river, but plans are under way to dam it in both China and Burma.
Below, news from the Nu River, compiled by Wang Yongchen, Beijing-based journalist and founder of the environmental group Green Earth Volunteers.
A recent photograph in the South China Morning Post (Feb. 26) showed labourers engaged in preparatory work for the Lushui hydropower project, one of a series of dams proposed for the Nu River in Yunnan province. The photograph provided confirmation that a new round of survey work has begun on the river. During a trip to the Nu valley in February last year, we saw survey boats on the river and construction sites festooned with the colourful flags of the Guodian Corp.
Equipment covered up, April 2006
However, by the time inspectors from UNESCO and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) arrived in the area a couple of months later, the boats had been hauled up onto the riverbank and plastic sheeting had been thrown over the exploration equipment in an attempt to conceal it.
At UNESCO’s annual conference held in Lithuania in July, the inspection team presented a 27-page report on its findings. It asked the Chinese government to provide a comprehensive plan for protecting the Three Parallel Rivers site by Feb. 1, 2007, or risk it being put on the organization’s “list of world heritage in danger.”
In early January this year, a propaganda blitz began in the Yunnan media. Officials pledged to protect the local biodiversity, and State Councillor Chen Zhili was quoted as saying the government would do everything in its power to prevent the world heritage site from being put on UNESCO’s endangered list.
The Nu River dams have yet to receive the official go-ahead, but concerned local citizens report that survey work is under way. They also report that farmers in the village of Xiaoshaba have already been resettled to make way for the proposed dam at Liuku, downstream of Lushui. Many of the 105 Xiaoshaba households have been moved uphill to a new government-built resettlement site. One displaced family of six had enjoyed a stable livelihood in the old location, growing rice and raising eight pigs.
Before resettlement, they not only had plenty to eat, but also earned enough to send two children to school in the county seat, paying fees and expenses of 2,000 yuan (US$250) a term for each child. But after the move, they had no paddy fields or room to raise pigs and were unable to cover the school fees.
The new resettlement site for villagers from Xiaoshaba
They bought a tractor with their resettlement compensation money and started a small transport-hauling business. However, the family’s income has fallen to 1,500 yuan ($200) a month, and they have had a hard time making ends meet. There is room in their new house to run a business, such as a small shop. But every resettled family’s new home has the same configuration, and if everyone ran a shop, there wouldn’t be enough customers to go around. Instead, the family has used the space to house members of their extended family.
The planners of the dam project pledged to lift local people out of poverty. As the spring sowing season approaches, the resettled villagers of Xiaoshaba are missing their old paddy fields and wondering what the future holds. Their peaceful, stable life has been turned upside down, and they want officials to address their situation.
Fog on the Nu River
by Liu Jianqiang, China Dialogue, Feb. 28, 2007
Last year, China enshrined in law the public’s right to participate in decision-making on large construction projects. Investigative journalist Liu Jianqiang reports on the progress of these measures in the Nu River valley.
Categories: China's Dams