Friday, June 8, 2012

Dam building restraint urged

Dam building restraint urged
By Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
6 June 2012

Deputy Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing has urged caution amid a big
dam-building frenzy on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, saying
the lessons of past dam construction in China's southwest must be
learned in the face of mounting environmental concerns and resettlement

Wu's remarks, at a media briefing in Beijing yesterday marking World
Environment Day, came amid heated debate on the building of four
mega-dams on the lower reaches of Jinsha (Yangtze) River and the
Xiaonanhai dam in Chongqing.

While supporters often tout big dams as effective solutions to poverty
and the country's power shortages, critics have pointed to rampant
environmental and geological hazards and simmering tensions over
relocation disputes among those evicted to make way for dams.

Wu expressed concern over the building of the Xiaonanhai dam, a
contentious project widely known as a pet project of Bo Xilai , the
disgraced former Communist Party chief in the southwestern municipality.

Even though the Xiaonanhai dam has been mired in controversies over its
devastating impact on a nearby national fishery reserve, its poor
economic feasibility and Bo's heavy involvement, its preparatory work
was allowed to go ahead only two weeks after Bo's downfall in late March.

"We have been closely watching the project and attached lots of
attention to the opinions of the media and various social groups," Wu said.

He said the ministry had urged local authorities to make a careful
decision after thoroughly reviewing the impact of the project.

It is widely believed that once the preliminary work, costing more than
200 million yuan (HK$1.5 billion), starts, it will be virtually
impossible to stop the 32 billion yuan project.

But Wu still appears to have faith in his ministry's ability to flex
some environmental muscle, saying the dam project is still subject to
formal approval by the environment ministry and other central government

"So far we have not received the environmental impact assessment report
for the dam project," he said.

In a broader comment on intensive dam construction along the upper
reaches of the Yangtze, where as many as 36 dams are being built or
planned, including the Xiaonanhai and four mega-dams on the lower
Jinsha, Wu emphasised the need to learn from past lessons.

Wu, a former deputy governor of Yunnan, said that southwestern China,
home to most of the big dams to be built in the coming decade, had rich
environmental and bio-diversity resources and was prone to a wide range
of geological risks, such as earthquakes and landslides. He said his
ministry had demanded that other government agencies and local
authorities carry out full reviews of the environmental impacts of
existing dams before pushing for more dams, which looked poised to wreck
further havoc on the environment and river systems.

"It is the prerequisite of our pursuit of active hydropower development
that we should properly deal with environmental protection and
resettlement," he said.

But despite widespread public support and its elevation to full ministry
status in 2008, environmentalists say Wu's ministry is still largely
"toothless" in blocking big dams built by power companies and backed by
the National Development and Reform Commission.

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