Children swimming in the Nu River

Salween/Nu River

The Nu/Salween River is one of the region’s last largely free-flowing rivers and is shared by China, Thailand, and Burma. The river originates on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through China’s Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, before becoming the Salween in Burma and Thailand and emptying into the Andaman Sea.

Dam Plans Revived in China

The World Heritage Site in China is known as the epicenter of Chinese biodiversity and contains over 6,000 plant species and is believed to support over 25% of the world’s and 50% of China’s animal species. This unique ecosystem and the communities that depend on it for their survival are threatened by plans to construct a 5-dam cascade on China’s portion of the river. The projects would displace 60,000 largely ethnic minority people. One village has already been relocated. News of the dams triggered UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to issue a warning to the Chinese government in 2005 that any dam construction within the World Heritage property "would provide a case for inclusion of the property in the List of World Heritage in Danger."

In an incredible victory for the burgeoning Chinese environmental movement, in 2004 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced the suspension of all projects on the Nu River pending further scientific study. However, in February 2011, Chinese officials revealed plans to resume the Nu River dams as part of China's 12th Five-Year Plan, which aims to add up to 140 GW of new hydropower capacity to meet its renewable energy targets. This was confirmed in January 2013, when the State Council announced plans for five of the 13 dams to start construction by 2015.

Groups Call for Halt to Burmese Dams

Communities living downstream in Burma and Thailand have voiced strong opposition to dam construction on the river both within China and on the lower stretch of the Nu/Salween in Burma. Seven large dams and a water diversion project are currently being pushed by the governments of Burma and Thailand for the lower Nu/Salween in Burma, despite recent conflicts near the dam sites. Thousands depend on the Nu/Salween for their livelihoods. Fisheries are a major source of dietary protein for communities, and the river’s nutrient-rich waters sustain vegetable gardens and farmlands. Six of these projects, including one on a major tributary, were approved in February 2013 according to Burma's Deputy Minister of Electric Power.

International Rivers is working with a coalition of NGOs to stop the dams in China and Burma, protect this precious resource, and find real solutions to climate change that don't sacrifice rivers and livelihoods.

Watch Double Threat on the Nu, our slideshow about the current threats to the Nu/Salween River: