University scholars and environmentalists against Nu River dams
Put on hold in 2004 by Premier Wen Jiabao, the project seems to be going ahead anyway. The area it will affect has been classified as a World Heritage site. Should the dams be built at least 50,000 people will be displaced to give way to construction.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Environmental groups but also scientists and university scholars have appealed to the central government to stop plans to build a series of dams along the central Nu River in Yunnan. In an open letter published two weeks ago, they called on the authorities to release a mandatory environmental impact assessment on the project and a public hearing on the issue. A similar letter was issued in August 2005 but fell on deaf years.

The overall project involves 13 proposed dams on a river that UNESCO has recognised as a World Heritage site in 2003 for its pristine natural beauty.

It was halted in 2004 by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who pledged a comprehensive green assessment, amid fierce public opposition over compensation and mounting environmental concerns.

However, the South China Morning Post reported today that preparatory work was underway to start building one of the dams in a few months time, strengthening riverbanks near the dam site and paving roads for the project.

In response locals are trying to stop bulldozers and tractors concerned that that they would be moved. In fact, if approved, the project would displace at least 50,000 people from their land.

The Yunnan government and China Huadian, a state-owned power giant, stress that once completed the 13 dams will have a total capacity of 21,320MW—about 17 per cent more than the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

They would generate more than 103 million MW of power a year and 36 billion yuan (US$ 5.4 billion) in annual revenue. Local government would get at least 1 billion yuan a year, an important sum for one of the poorest regions of China where the average annual per capita income is just 860 yuan, below the poverty line.

But many villagers find it difficult to believe in the central and local governments’ generosity. For them the dams are destined to quench the country’s growing thirst for energy at the expense of the local population. Indeed in many villages electrical bills have already gone up and many poor farmers are no longer able to pay.

They also point out that as far as local development is concerned local government could do well by repairing local roads and bridges, but so far has not done anything of the kind.

For many university scholars, the Nu River dams are further proof of China’s flawed form of government in which decisions are taken at the top with little regard for the people at the bottom—a far cry from what President Hu Jintao has been preaching, i.e. the need to protect the country’s waterways and give more attention to the needs of the more disadvantaged in society.