According to several Chinese news sources, the government of Yunnan Province has decided to stop all dam construction in the Nu Valley, a biodiversity hotspot of global importance. The decision still has to be confirmed by China’s State Council. If confirmed, this is very good news for China’s last remaining free-flowing river.
Peter Bosshard, the Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, said: “The proposed dams on the Nu River would create unacceptable environmental, social and seismic risks. The State Council has the opportunity to create an important environmental legacy by permanently protecting the Nu River.”
Dam building on the lower Nu River – the Salween – in Burma and Thailand would affect hundreds of thousands of people from ethnic minorities in the militarized Karen and Shah states. Burma and Thailand should also cancel the proposed dams on the Salween, the only major remaining free-flowing river in Southeast Asia.
With more than 6,000 plant species and an estimated half of China’s animal species, the Nu Valley is a global biodiversity hotspot. According to UNESCO, the region “may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth”; it has been protected as part of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site.
In a major victory for the country’s environmental movement, the Chinese government suspended all plans for dam building on the Nu River in 2004. In January 2013, the State Council announced plans for construction on five of the original 13 dams to start in 2015 under the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan. The governments of Burma and Thailand are promoting a further seven dams on the lower Nu or Salween River, including the massive and highly controversial Mong Ton and Hatgyi dams.
International Rivers has worked with partners in China, Burma and Thailand to investigate the ecological value of the Nu/Salween and monitor dam building plans on the river for many years. Over the past five years, International Rivers has coordinated research trips along the Nu River in China to gather more information about its outstanding ecological value and the risks posed by large dams.