Three Gorges Probe Newsletter
March 3, 2006
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Friday, March 3, 2006
Today’s top storiesNu River residents miss the boat
China’s top environmental agency last week issued a set of
‘provisional guidelines’ on the public’s right to participate in
decision-making on large projects such as big dams. But people living
in the Nu River valley are missing out on this new era of openness.
Full story appears below.
Is Zhaiwan’s pipe dream coming true?
Residents of a Hubei village, where a cancer cluster has been linked
to the severe pollution of local rivers, have been promised clean
drinking water piped right into their homes by the end of this month.
Full story appears below.
|Signs of the times|
|Near the site of the proposed Songta dam on the Nu River
Nu River residents miss the boat
By Kelly Haggart
China’s top environmental agency last week
issued a set of “provisional guidelines” on the public’s right to
participate in decision-making on large projects such as big dams.
The State Environmental Protection Administration’s measures, due to
take effect on March 18, call for the public to be consulted in “an
open, equal, extensive and convenient way” on major projects that will
But in this new era of openness, people living in southwest China’s
Nu River valley – where as many as 13 dams are planned – appear to have
missed the boat.
A recent visitor to the area reports seeing evidence of preliminary site work at Songta, the northernmost of the proposed dams.
Drilling activity had caused damage to vegetation, and rock debris
was piled on the riverbank. Engineers were seen in a boat near the
Songta site, drilling to obtain rock samples from the riverbed.
But while people living in the vicinity are aware of all this
activity, they have never officially been told anything about the dam
plans, and know nothing about “EIAs” or “public hearings.”
|Drilling on the river near the proposed Songta dam|
As Three Gorges Probe reported
in January, the Nu River dam project appears set to be pushed through
without environmental-impact documents being made public or open
The Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, which has close ties to the
Communist Party, said the Nu River environmental impact assessment
would remain a classified document because of Chinese confidentiality
laws governing international rivers. (The Nu also flows through Burma
The newspaper said the Nu River EIA recommended going ahead with the
construction of four of the planned dams – Maji, Yabiluo, Liuku and
Saige – in an initial phase of the project.
Chinese environmental activists, journalists and scholars have
mounted an impassioned campaign in recent months, urging Beijing to
release the Nu River EIA and hold public hearings on the controversial
project. The Nu River is one of only two major rivers in China that
remain unfragmented by dams. (The other is the Yaluzangbu in Tibet.)
Chinese scientists want the two left undisturbed so that future studies
can compare conditions in dammed and undammed rivers.
An open letter
submitted in August to central authorities by more than 60 Chinese
groups and scores of individuals argued that, amid all the secrecy,
“there is no way for the public to learn how the developers and local
government will avoid environmental damage, how they plan to carry out
the resettlement of 50,000 people, and how they will assure the safety
and economic feasibility of the dams.”
One of the signatories of the open letter was Wang Yongchen, founder
of the Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers and an ardent Nu River
“While celebrating the release of the EIA guidelines on public
participation, I believe we should be aware that we have a long way to
go,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the word ‘provisional’ dropped from
the guidelines. And, together with many others in Chinese NGOs, I’ll do
my best to push for large construction projects to become transparent
|Fact box: Nu River|
Gyalmo Ngulchu (Tibetan)
Nu River or Nujiang (Chinese)
(2,018 km of which is in China)
Is Zhaiwan’s pipe dream coming true?
By Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan
Residents of Zhaiwan village in Hubei province, where a cancer
cluster has been linked to the severe pollution of local rivers, have
been promised clean drinking water piped right into their homes by the
end of this month.
Collecting water samples near Zhaiwan
As Three Gorges Probe reported
in January, the village, situated on a sub-tributary of the Yangtze
River about 100 kilometres below the Danjiangkou dam, has been the
focus of a campaign by a local environmental group, Green Han River.
Beijing-based journalist and environmental activist Wang Yongchen also
highlighted the case in a story she wrote after visiting the region earlier this year.
Now, the government of Xiangfan municipality, which encompasses
Zhaiwan, is spending one million yuan (US$125,000) on a system of wells
and pipes designed to provide the 803 households in the village with
safe water, China Radio International (Zhongguo guoji guangbo diantai)
As many as 108 people in the village of 3,530 have died from
stomach, colon and other cancers since 2001, CRI says, adding that many
of those who died had been young and able-bodied. After a decade of
suffering, the villagers’ plight caught the attention of high-level
officials, including Hubei party secretary Yu Zhengsheng, who
instructed local officials to act.
Zhaiwan is situated on the Bai River, a sub-tributary of the Han
River, which is itself one of the largest Yangtze tributaries. Villager
Mu Yunsheng told a reporter that his family had fished in the Bai for
generations, hauling in as much as 50 kilos of fish a day. Their catch
began to decline in the mid-1990s, until by 2002 they had to abandon
fishing altogether. Now they eke out a livelihood weaving nets.
Mr. Mu said the stench from the Bai is unbearable in his home, which
is close to the river, and that the odour is still terrible five or six
Given the severity of the water and soil contamination in the river
valley, the 150 engineers and labourers working on Zhaiwan’s
running-water project had a hard time locating drinkable groundwater.
They ended up drilling to a depth of 120 metres, and bringing in
clean earth from 50 kilometres away to shore up the sides of the well.
Drilling work has now been completed, and tests on the water are being
conducted, CRI reported.
Many villagers have been working as volunteer labourers at the site,
eager to do their bit to bring safe water to Zhaiwan, and end its
suffering. However, water-quality experts are worried that serious
problems lie ahead for villages such as Zhaiwan.
Beginning in 2010, large amounts of water are to be extracted from
the Danjiangkou reservoir as part of the south-north water diversion
scheme aimed at supplying major cities, including Beijing and Tianjin,
in the arid north.
Scientists say siphoning off a huge quantity of water from the
reservoir is likely to cause pollutants to become more concentrated and
more dangerous in downstream rivers, such as the Bai.
News from other sourcesToday’s stories reprinted from Xinhua, Reuters, The Guardian, WWF, China Daily, New Scientist and China Watch.
Deteriorating environment challenges China’s rural development
Xinhua, March 2, 2006
Lu Hongwen, a provincial agricultural official in Heilongjiang, said
irrational land development, neglect of water and soil conservation,
and overcultivation have accelerated the deterioration of the
environment in northeast China.
China’s rubbish pickers scrap the farm for the city
by Lucy Hornby, Reuters, March 2, 2006
A family of farmers from the Three Gorges area ekes out a living in the garbage business in Shanghai.
Running on empty
by Fred Pearce, The Guardian, March 1, 2006
The world’s rivers are drying up. Fred Pearce has been on a five-year journey across the planet to find out why.
The myths and facts of freshwater
by Jamie Pittock, WWF, March 1, 2006
‘A recent scientific report shows that over 60 per cent of the world’s
227 largest rivers have been fragmented by dams, leading to the
destruction of wetlands, a decline in freshwater species … and the
forced displacement of millions of people.’
Central government to probe into river pollution in NE China
by Wang Jingzhong, Xinhua, Feb 27, 2006
‘All local policies and regulations that violate national environmental
protection laws and regulations must be rescinded,’ says a joint
statement by China’s environmental watchdog SEPA and the Ministry of
Cry me a river
Fred Pearce, The Guardian, Feb 27, 2006
‘Some of the great rivers of the world are disappearing: the Nile in
Egypt, the Yellow River in China, the Indus in Pakistan, the Colorado
and Rio Grande in the US …. Few of us realize how much water it takes
to get us through the day.’
Public can help environment
China Daily, Feb 27, 2006
‘More should be included, such as citizens’ rights to participate in
law-making, policy-making and law-enforcement,’ China Daily says in a
commentary on SEPA’s guidelines on public participation in
environmental impact assessments.
Three Gorges dam threatens vast fishery
by Jessica Marshall, New Scientist, Feb 25, 2006
The dam is already threatening one of the world’s biggest fisheries in
the East China Sea, scientists say, as the amount of fresh water and
sediment reaching the ocean declines precipitously.
SEPA releases new measure on public participation in EIA process
by Yingling Liu, China Watch, Feb 24, 2006
‘The ruling, made public on February 22, is the outcome of nearly four
months of deliberation following circulation of an early draft for
public comment in November. It may see further revision as SEPA
receives additional feedback.’
China’s rivers: Frontlines for chemical wastes
by Zijun Li, China Watch, Feb 23, 2006
Although China has stepped up efforts to clean up its rivers and crack
down on plants that pose obvious environmental safety risks, progress
has stalled due to a lack of funds and professional personnel.
Please visit us at: http://www.ThreeGorgesProbe.org Three Gorges
Probe News Service: Three Gorges Probe covers the social,
environmental, scientific and economic impacts of big dams and other
large-scale water projects in China, as well as alternatives to such
schemes. All stories written by Three Gorges Probe staff may be
reproduced freely, although we do ask that you credit Three Gorges
Probe and send us the relevant clippings or wesite addresses.
Publisher: Patricia Adams
Editor (English): Kelly Haggart
Editor (Chinese): Mu Lan
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