Nu River Dams: Approval Expected in Coming Months

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Open Letter Sent to Government Urging Public Disclosure of EIA

On August 31, a broad coalition of Chinese groups sent an open letter to the government urging public disclosure of environmental studies for the Nu River Hydropower Development Plan before the government decides to approve a series of at least four dams for the now free–flowing river.

The letter reveals that Central Government agencies have reviewed the EIA of the revised Nu River Hydropower Development Plan and are planning to approve it in the coming months. The Nu River is one of only two undammed rivers in China and has been at the center of an unprecedented campaign by Chinese environmentalists, journalists and the general public to protect the river from massive hydropower development.

Ever since Premier Wen Jiabao suspended plans for 13 dams on the Nu River in April 2004, the Yunnan Provincial Government has been trying to push through a scaled–back version of the plan. The local media reports that Central Government approval is being sought for four dams for the first phase of the plan. This includes the largest dam in the proposed cascade, the Maji Dam, which at 300 meters would be one of the highest dams in the world.

The open letter – signed by 92 organizations and 459 individuals – points to several Chinese laws which require public disclosure of EIAs and public hearings in cases where stakeholders may be adversely affected. Yet NGOs in China are concerned that the revised EIA for the four proposed dams on the Nu River is already making its way through the government approval process without any opportunity for public scrutiny or input.

The letter states: "There is still no way for the public to learn how the developers and local government plan to avoid environmental damage, or to arrange proper relocation, or to assure the safety and economic feasibility of the dams. We believe that it does not fulfill the legal requirements for such a major plan if it bypasses the public participation requirements in Chinese law. The decision–making under such circumstances lacks public support and cannot tolerate history’s scrutiny."

The Nu River (known as the Salween in downstream Burma and Thailand) runs through an area of rich cultural and biological diversity, and has been recognized as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Area. In July, the World Heritage Committee expressed its "grave concern on the impacts that the proposed construction of dams could have" on the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Area and downstream communities and stated 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." The Committee will send a monitoring mission to the site in 2006 to evaluate the situation.

The proposed dam projects would forcibly displace some 50,000 ethnic minority people. In addition, the dams would affect the livelihoods of millions of people living downstream who depend on the river for fisheries, agriculture and many other aspects of their livelihoods.