About 60,000 could lose homes for controversial Nu River dams
7 March, 2013
By Ben Blanchard, Reuters
China expects 60,000 people to lose their homes in the remote southwest
if a series of four dams along the country's last free-flowing river
gets the go-ahead, a local official said on Thursday in the first
government estimate for relocations.
Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, a geologist by trade and populist by
instinct, vetoed the dams in Yunnan province on the Unesco-protected Nu
River, known outside China as the Salween, in 2005, after an outcry from
But in late January, the government unexpectedly announced that dam
building would resume, with the Nu River high on the list for development.
Qin Guangrong, Yunnan's Communist Party chief, told reporters on the
sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament that work had not yet
But Li Siming, head of the prefecture along the Myanmar border where the
dams would be built, said the prefecture had already begun looking at
how to relocate people.
"The initial estimate is that 60,000 people will have to be relocated,"
Li said. Most are from the ethnic Lisu minority.
"We've not yet got to the stage of working out where they will be
relocated to. There are no details yet on whether the projects will even
happen," he added. "There are limited amounts of land."
China relocated 1.3 million people during the 17 years it took to
complete the massive, US$59 billion Three Gorges Dam, built in a much
more heavily populated area in central China.
Li, an ethnic Lisu himself, said the environmental impact assessment had
not been completed and he did not know when construction might start.
"The whole process, from the central government to the provincial
government to the prefectural government, will be open to the public ï¿½
it's part of the policy of ï¿½letting the light shine on the government',"
Environmentalists have long complained about the lack of transparency
about the dam project.
"The problem is that for a matter that has provoked concern from the
international community, they have never held a hearing before," Wang
Yongchen, an environmentalist who has long campaigned for the Nu River,
told reporters recently.
Li said that most residents supported the dam project, but added that "a
minority" did not.
"If we see that development of hydropower resources on the Nu River will
not benefit the local people, then we will not do it," he said.
Li sounded uncertain, however, when asked if he personally supported the
"I grew up along the Nu River. How to protect it, how to develop it, how
to use it, I have my own opinions on that," he said. "I'm a local boy:
we've always relied on the land, and the water.
"As head of the prefecture, I'm always thinking about how to protect the
land but also how to use it. This is always on my mind... It's not about
whether I personally support it or not."
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