Zone of Peace
UN Warning Could See Dams Scrapped
Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
South China Morning Post
SHI JIANGTAO in Beijing
Yunnan intends to scrap a controversial dam project along the Nu
River, a few months after Unesco threatened to take one of the
province's attractions off its World Heritage list, environmental
A decision could come as early as next month, the sources said,
although even with the surprising U-turn, provincial authorities were
likely to push ahead with plans for dams on two other international
rivers in Yunnan.
By abandoning the Nu River dams, the authorities hoped to ease
concerns the UN cultural body had over the protection of the Three
Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a World Heritage site, the
sources said. It covers a vast area through which run the upper reaches
of three great rivers, the Nu (Salween), Lancang (Mekong) and Jinsha
The Unesco decision means the Yunnan government had to make a hard
choice between the dam projects and the heritage site, which Unesco
believes has been endangered by the proposed hydropower development on
the three rivers, one source said.
Unesco threatened in July to put the site on an endangered list, the
second warning in about a year and one that could have resulted in
losing protection status, after advisers from the World Conservation
Union, or IUCN, inspected the area.
The sources said the warning came amid assurances from mainland
officials that any future dams would not affect the site.
Unesco and IUCN were not happy with Beijing's deliberate unclear
boundary definition of the protected areas, which left room for
modifications in favour of damming and mining activities, another source
Unesco found the area of the site would be reduced by 20 per cent
under a government-led boundary modification plan, which local media
reported would also allow mining activities and other development around
If it is listed as World Heritage in danger, it would have a very
negative impact on the country's international image, one mainland
The plan to build up to 13 dams on the Nu River caused an
international outcry that prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to suspend
preparations in February 2004.
However, some sources suggested the media reports might cause
authorities to delay abandoning the Nu River dams to avoid the
perception they were bowing to international pressure.
IUCN said it would welcome the decision if confirmed. That would be
great news and we would be delighted, said Bastian Bomhard, a world
heritage officer at IUCN.
Dropping the Nu River projects, however, is likely to prompt local
authorities to plan more dams on the Lancang because of economic
considerations. State media reports have favoured damming the Lancang
despite opposition from five downstream countries, including Thailand.
Xinhua said on Monday that dam construction on the Lancang would not
affect countries downstream.
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