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IRN’s Nu (Salween) River Campaign

The first bend of the Nu River

The first bend of the Nu River.
Credit: Wang Yongchen, www.nujiang.ngo.cn
See larger image

The Nu River is one of China’s last 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, an area known as the epicenter of Chinese biodiversity. The World Heritage Site contains over 6,000 plant species and is believed to support over 25% of the world’s and 50% of China’s animal species. Also known for its cultural diversity, almost 300,000 people from thirteen different ethnic groups live in the Three Parallel Rivers Area.

This unique ecosystem and the communities that depend on it for their survival are threatened by plans to construct a 13-dam cascade on China’s portion of the river. The projects would displace 50,000 ethnic minority people. Nine of the dams are situated in National Nature Reserves that are located close to the World Heritage site. This 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."

Map of the Nu River

Nujiang Map
International Rivers Network

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, the Huadian Corporation and the Yunnan Provincial government are determined to develop a scaled-back version of the plan, starting with the construction of four projects. The Central government has reportedly approved the revised plan, but refuses to release the project’s environmental impact assessment, calling it a "state secret."

Communities living downstream in Burma and Thailand have voiced strong opposition to dam construction on the river. Thousands depend on the Nu (known as the Salween downstream) 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.

The decision to dam the Nu River is being made without the participation of affected people in China and without consultation with downstream communities in Burma and Thailand. IRN is working with a coalition of NGOs to stop the dams and protect this precious resource.

Background

Nu River Fact Sheet
Known as the Salween River in Burma and Thailand, the Nu River stretches over 3,200 kilometers from its origins on the Tibetan Plateau to its delta at the Andaman Sea in Burma. It is the second longest river in Southeast Asia and is one of only two undammed rivers in China. Yet the Chinese government has plans to build up to thirteen dams on one of China’s last free–flowing rivers.
Vast Dam Proposal is a Test for China
For decades, the Communist Party has rammed through dam projects by fiat. But the Nu River proposal, already delayed for more than a year, is now unexpectedly presenting the Chinese government with a quandary of its own making: Will it abide by its laws? By Jim Yardley.

latest additions

UNESCO World Heritage Committee: "Continuing Serious Concern"
In its July 2006 Annual Meeting, the World Heritage Committee expressed its "continuing serious concern over the potential significant impact from proposed hydropower and dam development on the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site and downstream communities", and requested the Chinese government to submit a report by 1 February 2007 including: "detailed plans for hydropower and dam construction in the Nujiang, Lancang and Jinsha River Valleys, including the Environmental Impact Assessments ...". This is significant as the Chinese government has refused to release the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Nu River dams, calling it a "state secret", July 2006.
Chinese River Defender Wins Goldman Environmental Prize
Yu Xiaogang, the Founder and Director of Chinese NGO Green Watershed, has been awarded the prestigious 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize for his pioneering work in protecting rivers and watersheds in China. Mr. Yu has led a citizens’ movement to protect China’s rivers and people from the impacts of dams, and has been a key player in the movement to protect the Nu River, one of only two undammed major rivers in China, April 24, 2006.
Report from the Nu River: "Nobody Has Told Us Anything"
Wang Yongchen, Beijing-based journalist and founder of the environmental group Green Earth Volunteers, reports on her travels to the Nu River valley in Yunnan Province. She discovers what local people have been told about the projects, and how they feel about the prospect of resettlement, April 18, 2006.
Report of an IUCN Monitoring Mission to the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site
IUCN/The World Conservation Union was requested by the World Heritage Committee in 2005 to visit the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site to "evaluate progress made on the conservation of the property ... and to assess the impacts of planned dams on the outstanding universal values of the site, its integrity and downstream communities." Read the report from their site visit, which took place in April 2006, April 15, 2006.
Impacts of Planned Dams on Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Area
This IRN report outlines what impacts we believe can be expected from dam construction in the vicinity of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, March 3, 2006.
Chinese Groups Demand Disclosure of Environmental Studies
A broad coalition of Chinese groups have written to the Chinese government urging public disclosure of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Nu River Hydropower Development Plan. Endorsed by 459 individuals and 92 organizations, the letter was sent after Chinese groups learned that the government was considering approving up to four dams on the pristine Nu River in coming months. Read IRN’s press advisory, August 31, 2005.
Additional Information

Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director

International Rivers Network

E–mail: aviva@irn.org

Phone: +1 510-848-1155