A Story of The Angry River

Sunshine on the Nu River
Sunshine on the Nu River
Wang Yongchen, Green Earth Volunteers

In 2003, a group of brave NGO activists, journalists and academics set out to protect one of Asia's last largely free-flowing river – the Nujiang (or the "Angry River," also known as the Salween) – from 13 planned dams. Dr. Yu Xiaogang, Goldman Prize winner and director of the Yunnan-based Green Watershed, was one of them. I've had the privilege of seeing him in action – whether its fearlessly navigating a jeep up the side of a steep mountain, explaining to dam-affected communities about their rights under China's environment and resettlement laws, or speaking with local dam workers and engineers.

This is his Nujiang story – a story about a beautifully wild and unpredictable region and the rise of a movement to preserve a natural heritage for present and future generations.

(Turn on English subtitles under video captions.)

The story is not over. Ever since the dam projects were suspended in 2004 by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (largely a result of public opposition, a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Law, and prominence as a recently-inscribed World Heritage Site), the local government and the hydropower developers Yunnan Huadian and Datang corporations have been actively pushing five of these lucrative projects forward. One village has already been relocated, site preparation has begun on several others on the mainstream, and projects on the tributaries are almost completed. In January, China's State Council announced that the five Nujiang dams would resume as part of its new Energy Development Plan. The total lack of transparency around the Nujiang dam decisions and the vested interests behind them have shocked environmentalists and made a mockery of the same EIA process that was meant to ensure public participation and prevent unsustainable development. 

While the State Council announcement makes the dams look like a done deal, Chinese officials have emphasized that at this point, they are just plans. Meanwhile, Chinese NGOs are rallying together again ahead of a March parliamentary session in Beijing. Top of their agenda will be a call to China's new leader, Xi Jinping, for greater transparency in development decisions. Learn more about the Nu River and then join the movement.

In honor of the 2013 International Day of Action for Rivers, please tell us the story of you and your river through prose, poetry or artwork, in an email or by mail. We would love to receive short videos or audio recordings of your stories. What are you doing to defend, protect, or restore your river? Send submissions to stories@internationalrivers.org.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013