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Opinion ... ...
    Killing Nujiang hydro project the right move
Xiao Hua
2004-04-29 06:33

It has been confirmed that the State Council has quashed the hydropower project on the Nujiang River, which had already been given the go-ahead by the National Development and Reform Commission.

Many people have voiced their approval of the State Council's action.

Since the project was proposed, it has ignited strong objections from scientists, experts and environmental projectionists. A tug of war between those interested in developing the local economy and those concerned about protecting the ecological system along the river has been going on ever since. But now, with the backing of the central government, the party against the project has won a temporary victory.

Rising in the Tanggula Mountains, the Nujiang River passes through Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, then through Myanmar, eventually flowing into the Indian Ocean.

In its mid and lower reaches, the total drop is 1,578 metres over a distance of 742 kilometres, which makes the river an ideal location for hydroelectric plants.

According to the proposed project, 13 dams were to be built on the river, with a total installed capacity of 21 million kilowatts. And the project has been viewed as the answer to electricity-thirsty Yunnan's energy shortfall problem.

The project is naturally seen by local officials as an efficient way to revitalize the local economy. Currently, the annual revenues of Nujiang prefecture are only about 100 million yuan (US$12 million). Should the project be completed, local revenues would grow remarkably. The hydropower project clearly would help the area shake off poverty.

But environmentalists hold that the project will inevitably spoil the ecological balance of the area, bringing disastrous consequences for the species unique to the region and great loss to the world.

The Nujiang River is host to more than 20 per cent of the country's higher-order plants and over 25 per cent of its wild vertebrates. Of 48 known fish species living in the river, more than 30 are peculiar to the region, and four have been listed in the international red paper on wildlife protection.

The reservoirs would put the river basin and valley sheltering the land species under water.

There is really no need to mention how important it is to preserve the ecological system in the river basin, as it concerns the sustainable development of the area. After all, we have already paid too much for over-exploration of nature.

Besides worries about the unique ecological system of the Nujiang River, doubts have also been raised as to whether local residents' life would actually be improved.

Although the local government has promised to allocate part of income for construction of infrastructure facilities, how much would finally be pumped into such work is still a question.

And should the project be completed, the local residents would be deprived of their homeland. They would lose their source of income and face a series of other problems, such as relocation. If proper compensations for relocation were not to be paid, local residents would lead an even more miserable life.

While local residents have little knowledge and insufficient information about the risks and benefits of the project, the local government of Nujiang prefecture has been going full-out with public relations work promoting the project.

But this will never convince people that the project is primarily for the benefit of the local people.

Given these facts, it is clear that further careful and extensive study should be undertaken before any change in the government's latest position be considered.

To develop the local economy, the funds earmarked for the hydro project could be used for the development of a local transportation network to strengthen the area's tourism industry.

(China Daily 04/29/2004 page6)