Dams and Landslides

PRESS RELEASE Ethnic minorities in southwestern China threatened by hydro development, group tells World Heritage Forum in Quebec

July 8, 2008

In a letter obtained by Probe International and submitted to the World Heritage Committee meeting in Quebec City this week, a group of Lisu minority youth said that hydropower development along the Nu River would destroy one of the world’s most culturally and biologically diverse regions.

Probe International
PRESS RELEASE

July 8, 2008

Ethnic Minorities in Southwestern China Threatened by Hydro Development, Group Tells World Heritage Forum in Quebec City

A group of Lisu minority youth have appealed to the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee to help save southwestern China’s Nu river from hydropower development.

In a letter obtained by Probe International and submitted to the World Heritage Committee meeting in Quebec City this week, the group said that hydropower development along the Nu River would destroy one of the world’s most culturally and biologically diverse regions.

The Nu is one of three international rivers originating from the Tibetan plateau and flowing parallel to one another for nearly 200 kilometres through mountainous Yunnan province.

Officially recognized by the World Heritage Committee as the “Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site” in 2003, the region encompasses 1.7 million hectares of glacial peaks and spectacular river gorges.

But construction of large hydro dams will destroy the region’s fragile environment and minority cultures, the letter warns. Already, Lisu citizens have witnessed the ecological damage wrought by smaller-scale dams along Nu tributaries: mountains have turned “into piles of rubble” while the once fast-flowing rivers have become choked by frequent rock- and mudslides.

Even more distressing, the group writes, big dams will obliterate Lisu culture, which is tied to the Nu river. “Do not just leave our descendants with lifeless reservoir after lifeless reservoir! Let our mother, the Nu river, flow freely as it has done for millennia!”

The Lisu are one of 12 tribes in Yunnan province threatened by dams on the Nu river.

Earlier this year, China’s Huadian Group, one of the country’s top five power companies, started building the first of 13 hydro dams planned for the Nu river despite public opposition.

Environmental groups, including Toronto-based Probe International, have urged the Chinese government and its international financiers to make the dam plans public and respect the rights of local people to have a final say in decisions affecting the region.

Read the original letter below.

For more information, CONTACT:

Grainne Ryder, Policy Director, Probe International

E-mail GrainneRyder@gmail.com or Phone 1 416 964 9223 (ext 228)

END

Let the Nu River Flow Freely: An appeal from a group of Lisu ethnic minority youths

The Nu River, the basis of the Lisu ethnic minority peoples’ way of life, has flowed powerfully and unhindered for millennia. Without the Nu River, this beautiful but harsh region would not have supported human life.

Today, however, human civilization is gradually swallowing the fragile ecological environment of the Nu River.

North of the Liuku along the Nu River, there are small and medium-sized hydropower plants on almost every tributary. Even mountains over 2500 metres above sea-level have, one by one, been turned into piles of rubble. Roads built for the construction of dams have carved “scars” into mountainsides, leaving people bitterly disappointed. The valleys of some tributaries are now filled with large quantities of stones caused by landslides and mud-rock flow. The flow of water in these valleys has noticeably decreased, and a large amount of vegetation has been buried. It can be said that the construction of small and medium-sized hydropower plants on every tributary has caused severe damage to the surrounding ecology.

Even more distressing are the plans to build large scale hydropower plants on the Nu River. For those of us who have grown up on the banks of the river, this is very difficult to comprehend. Can the existing value of the world species gene pool and the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site that our Nu River is famous for really be compared with the value of dams and reservoirs?

As the whole river valley of the Nu River is geographically closed, the original ecological environment has been well-preserved. It is China’s extremely important and precious gene pool. The Nu River is also an area where multiple ethnic groups, languages, written scripts, religious beliefs, working and living styles, and customs and conventions co-exist. It is one of the richest areas in terms of the diversity of minority cultures, and has one of the longest accumulations of history and culture, not only in China, but in the world. Many species in the Nu river area are yet to be properly researched, and much culture is yet to be properly uncovered. Once the large scale hydropower plants are developed, many things will never exist again.

I do not want our descendants, the descendants of the Lisu ethnic minority, to ask us what the Nu River used to be like, when we can only flip through photo albums, pointing at photos and telling them that the water in the Nu River used to flow with extremely turbulent currents and that there were some sandy beaches.

The things that are most worthy of our pride will disappear with the construction of large hydropower plants. I am a member of the Lisu ethnic minority; I tell my friends and tell my son to speak the Lisu language. I tell my son that in the future he also must teach his son to speak the Lisu language. If the dam is built, the water level rises and people move away, then village stories and people’s heroes will disappear, and ethnic group culture will vanish and become extinct.

We hereby appeal to relevant departments to attach the amount of importance to the development of hydropower on the Nu River that it deserves. Do not give up the really valuable things for a petty profit! Do not just leave our descendants with lifeless reservoir after lifeless reservoir! Let our mother, the Nu River flow freely as it has done for millennia! Let the Nu River continue to survive!

In the future, if we can only write down that we are from the Lisu ethnic minority when filling out a form, will there still be a Lisu ethnic minority?

A group of Lisu ethnic minority youths

Submitted to the World Heritage Committee in Quebec City

July 2008

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