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Time June 10, 2008
By Austin Ramzy/Liuku

Yu Guifu's farmland is still above water, and for that he can thank China's environmental movement. For years power companies have longed to dam the Nu River, which flows flat and olive drab below the fields where Yu and his family earn $1,200 a year growing corn, rice and strawberries. So far they haven't succeeded. "That river hasn't changed in my lifetime," says Yu, 50, as he rolls a cigarette and squishes his bare feet in a soft embankment. "But I don’t know what will happen next."

Yu's uncertainty is widely shared. The Nu — its name means "angry" — flows through one of China’s most remote corners, down from the Tibetan highlands through western Yunnan province, a few miles from Burma. It is one of China's last two rivers to not be blocked by dams — the other is Tibet's Yaluzangbu — and environmentalists want to keep it that way. But China is hungry for energy, and with the country choking on its addiction to highly polluting coal, Beijing has mandated that more power should come from renewable sources. The fast-flowing Nu offers vast potential for hydropower. The local government sees dams as a way to boost tax revenue and raise the incomes of the local people, who earn less than half of the national average.

In June 2003 a consortium led by China Huadian power company announced plans to build 13 dams along the main stem of the Nu. That prompted stiff opposition from international and domestic green groups. In April 2004, Premier Wen Jiaobao put the plans on hold and ordered further assessment of the project. For China's nascent environmental movement, it was a rare and welcome success. Not only did the Nu win a reprieve, but the "scientific development" ideology of Wen and President Hu Jintao — which emphasizes sustainable development and social welfare — seem to mean that more light would shine on the murky decision-making that accompanies huge infrastructure projects in China. "It was encouraging," says Wang Yongchen, co-founder of the NGO Green Earth Volunteers. "Wen said it should be looked at scientifically. That's not the same as saying you can’t build dams. But we were very excited to have the Premier say this."

But any celebration now appears premature. Along the river, signs are emerging that dams will be built, and soon. In March the State Development and Reform Commission published its five-year plan for energy development, which listed the commencement of work on two dams on the Nu as key projects. Equally galling to the anti-dam campaigners is the secrecy that has surrounded the decision. Details of the plans have not been made public, and the environmental assessments ordered by Wen have not been released. Because the Nu is an international river — it flows into Burma on its southward journey to the Andaman Sea — development plans fall under state secrecy laws.

Scholars and environmentalists in February signed an open letter calling for the plans to be released. "Such a major decision will be illegal under existing laws and regulations if the project goes ahead without public participation," the letter states. "The decision will lack public support and can hardly stand the test of time."

Public discussion or not, work along the Nu is moving ahead. Xiaoshaba, a riverside village of 120 families just a few miles upstream from the regional capital of Liuku, has been leveled and its residents relocated to higher ground. The project was officially carried out under the national "New Socialist Countryside" program. Villagers were compensated for the loss of fields that will be flooded. Earth movers, laborers and survey teams from the Sinohydro company, a member of the consortium that wants to dam the river, crawl over the site.

Sixty miles downstream other crews are at work on a bridge and dam foundation at Saige, which along with Xiaoshaba are the two sites mentioned in the development and reform commission's five-year plan. While signs say the Saige work is for a transportation project, a surveyor standing on the roadside by the site readily admits they are building a hydropower dam. (The Nu prefecture government and the Yunan provincial government did not respond to requests for comment.)

To Beijing-based environmental groups, the loss of the wild Nu is unacceptable. Sheltered by the Gaoligang and Biluo mountain ranges, the Nu valley has fostered diverse human and animal life. More than a third of China’s 56 recognized minority groups live in the area. Many, like the farmer Yu Guifu, are Lisu, a Tibetan-Burmese group with a high percentage of Christians owing to the early 20th century work of British missionary James Fraser. In Nu prefecture the Han people, who are a vast majority nationwide, make up less than 10% of the population.

The river is also the site of some of China's richest biodiversity, with over 50 species of fish, more than one third of which are found nowhere else. The relatively untouched environment has earned the region recognition as a World Heritage site. "We think there shouldn't be any dams," says Wang. "We need to save this for future generations."

But as one gets closer to the river, the answers get less absolute. The projects could bring some prosperity to a region where the poverty is palpable. Leave some scraps behind after dinner at a Liuku restaurant, and a trash hauler may walk in and wolf them down. Many people live high in the mountains and walk all day to make it to the weekly village markets, prompting the nickname "double dark" — when they head out the sky is dark, just as it is when they finally return home.

Just how much a hydropower boom will help is uncertain. The steepness of the hillsides along the Nu mean that much of the valuable farmland abuts the river and will be flooded by dams. The new residences for the Xiaoshaba residents looks more like a middle-income Hong Kong housing estate than a rural Chinese village. But despite the exterior improvements, villagers are upset that they can no longer raise livestock outside their homes. One former resident of the now-demolished village says his family lost valuable cropland and the payment offered by the government is not enough to compensate. Job growth due to hydropower work is unlikely, the resident says, because the dam builders rely on outside labor. "Building this dam is good for the local government because of the tax revenue they can get off the electricity," says the resident, who asked to not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "But the local people will just come to grief."

Despite villagers' misgivings, there is no organized local opposition to the dams. Kristen McDonald, an American graduate student who interviewed 200 villagers along the river while researching a thesis, said that roughly one third support the project, one third oppose it and one third are undecided. The local government says that 20% of the prefecture's residents don't have electricity, a problem the dams would solve.

Yu Xiaogang, director of the Yunnan-based environmental NGO Green Watershed, says he's not opposed to dams, but believes they can do more harm than good if they aren’t planned carefully. "If it contradicts scientific development and harms society, if it's a quick and dirty and even foolish decision, then that will be a pity," he says. And once the farmers' fields are inundated by the once-wild Nu, they will be left asking what happens next.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1813087,00.html

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Nicholas Kusnetz, Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, June 8, 2008

(06-08) 04:00 PDT Mae Hong Son, --

Thailand - In the dry season, the Salween River cuts a multicolored gash of green, gray and beige as it carries Himalayan snowmelt through steaming jungles along the Thailand-Burma border en route to the Andaman Sea.

On the Thailand side, villages of thatched huts and hardwood homes dot the landscape, while the Burmese portion houses only military outposts, the legacy of forced evacuations.

Now, Burma's energy-hungry neighbors - China and Thailand - are pushing the military junta to embark on a huge dam project along the Salween, one of Southeast Asia's last untamed rivers, which stretches 1,700 miles through China, eastern Burma and Thailand.

The $8 billion project would not only generate electricity but give the government justification to flood the heart of rebel territory of Karen, Shan and Karenni minorities fighting for independence in eastern Burma.

The region has been spared the severe damage caused by Cyclone Nargis, which flooded vast stretches of Burma's southern coast May 2-3, killed 78,000 and left as many as 56,000 people missing. But residents along the river, including ethnic minorities who have resisted government rule, have had struggles of their own.

In past decades, the Burmese military junta has confiscated their lands, forced villagers to work as laborers and restricted movement as part of the 60-year-old civil wars. The conflicts have created at least 500,000 internally displaced people, according to a 2007 report by Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a British charity organization. Another 140,000 are living in refugee camps near border towns like Mae Hong Son.

Although the dam project is decades old and many elements remain secret, Thailand's new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, said in March that Chinese, Thai and Burmese energy companies would invest in the project. Construction is expected to begin next year on two of five proposed dams along the Salween.

For Burma's neighbors, the dams are expected to provide cheap electricity and lucrative contracts for hydropower companies in China and Thailand. Burma, also known as Myanmar, will receive billions of dollars in badly needed foreign investment and a small undecided percentage of the 14,000 megawatt project.

But perhaps more noteworthy, the project will divide rebel territories in the eastern states where three major guerrilla groups still operate.

Rebel strongholds

The Ta Sang and Upper Thanlwin dam sites are in Shan state, where the Shan State Army South has long battled the Burmese military. The proposed Dagwin, Wei Gyi and Hat Gyi sites are in Karen state, home to the Karen National Union, or KNU, one of the largest groups fighting the government.

The Ta Sang site alone has already displaced 35,000 people, according to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium.

"The dams would be the end of the KNU," said Ko Shwe of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Dagwin and Wei Gyi dams will also flood most of Karenni state's two river valleys that lie upstream where the armed Karenni National Progressive Party is active. An estimated 30,000 residents would lose their homes and farms to a 250-square-mile reservoir, according to the Karenni Development Research Group, a nonprofit group based in Mae Hong Son.

"If there are no villages, there is no way for the rebels to survive," said Sai Sai, coordinator of Salween Watch, an environmental organization in Chiang Mai that opposes the dams. "The Burmese are using this policy to control the land."

Officials at the Burmese Embassy in Washington denied numerous requests for an interview to speak about the dam projects.

The projects could also cause an influx of refugees into Thailand that would strain local resources, according to Pa-Korn Kangwanpong, chief executive of the local government where the Dagwin dam is expected to be built. "More refugees would lead to deforestation," he said, referring to timber needed for fuel and clear-cutting of trees needed for farming. "We can do many things to get power. Why do they need to build these dams?"

A senior official of Thailand's state energy company, Electricity Generating Authority, said public opposition has kept his country from investing in hydro and nuclear energy projects.

Electricity shortage

"We have a shortage of electricity, and we need to buy electricity from our neighbors," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.

The Salween hydroelectric project is part of a larger set of collaborations among Burma, China and Thailand. China is a top arms supplier to the junta and a strong supporter on the U.N. Security Council. Thailand is one of Burma's largest trading partners.

Both China and Thailand also rely heavily on Burma's relatively unexploited forests, mines, gas and oil fields and rivers, says Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia's Macquarie University in Sydney.

In recent years, the junta has gone on a dam-construction spree, with China currently investing $30 billion to build 20 dams, according to the Bangkok Post. Chinese companies are also involved in numerous oil and gas projects in Burma.

"China is looking to Burma as a sort of gas station," Turnell said.

Meanwhile, Burma's economy, impoverished after years of mismanagement by its military leaders, depends heavily on foreign extraction of its resources. All but $1 million of the $622 million direct foreign investment in Burma over the first 11 months of the 2006-2007 fiscal year came from oil, gas and other power projects, according to a study by the research arm of the Economist magazine, Economist Intelligence Unit.

Such dependence on natural resources bodes poorly for the people along the Salween who believe the river is a deity. Before crossing, many people pray to the river, whose turbulent waters regularly swallow boats and their crews.

A life force

The river is a life force as well, supporting more than 70 species of fish and depositing fertile silt for agriculture during the dry season.

Pai Roj, a Karen who lives in the Thai border village of Tha Ta Fang near the proposed Dagwin dam site, says even though the dams will not flood his home, they will keep fish from migrating between the upper and lower parts of the Salween.

"The river is the blood of our people. Our life has been intertwined with the river for generations," he said, while sitting cross-legged on a neighbor's wooden floor. "They want to build the dams to control the area, to control the people."

Twenty-five miles downstream, lies the site of the proposed Hatgyi dam, which Thai energy officials say is likely to be the first to go online with construction expected to begin in 2009. The site is also in territory where neither the Burmese military nor Karen rebels have full control. Last September, preparatory work was suspended after rebels killed a Thai surveyor.

The anonymous Thai energy official, however, brushed off any security concerns.

"If you take that kind of thing seriously, you can't develop," said the official. "Myanmar will take care of them."

E-mail Nicholas Kusnetz at foreign@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/06/08/MNIM10GJUC.DTL

This article appeared on page A - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Source: Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB)
http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1404

Jun 6, 2008 (DVB)–The Burma Rivers Network has urged foreign companies to reconsider their investments in dam and gas projects in Burma due to the devastating impact on the local environment.

In a statement released to mark World Environment Day yesterday, the group called on companies involved in dam building and extraction of natural gas in Burma to withdraw their investments.

The secretary of the Burma Rivers Network, U Aung Nge, said steps needed to be taken to protect against deforestation and air pollution in Burma.

“There are about 25 massive dams in Burma built by Chinese and Thai state companies and there has been large-scale deforestation around the dam sites,” Aung Nge said.

“Eighteen percent of Burma’s forests have been wiped out, and that’s higher than anywhere in the world.”

Aung Nge said that companies investing the dam building and natural gas projects in Burma needed to be aware of their impact on the local population.

“It is the Burmese people who are going to have to suffer the detrimental social and environmental consequences of these investments,” he said.

“So we urge the Thai and Chinese governments and Thai companies who are involved in these investments to think hard about these
consequences and reconsider their investments.”

The group also pointed out how the loss of mangrove to deforestation exacerbated the impact of Cyclone Nargis, and warned that such
disasters could become more frequent or more devastating in future if the problem is not addressed.

Aung Nge said the Burma Rivers Network would continue to advocate for environmental issues.

“Climate change and global warming issues are major concerns for people all over the world,” Aung Nge said.

“We are going to keep releasing statements for as long as there are countries and individuals who don’t protect the environment,” he said.

“And we will work with those who have influence over them to convince them to change their ways.”

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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Diversion, dredging schemes worth B60bn
Bangkok Post 10 June 08
ANUCHA CHAROENPO & APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej yesterday approved two water management projects worth around 60 billion baht to feed agricultural areas across the country.

The move was seen as the prime minister's first concrete step to realise his ambitious plan to implement water management mega-projects within his four-year term.

Proposed by the national water management board at a meeting chaired by Mr Samak at Government House, the projects include a 43.8 billion-baht scheme to divert water from the Mae Yuam river (a tributary of the Salween) in Mae Hong Son province to the Bhumibhol dam in Tak province; and a 15 billion-baht project to dredge 6,607 natural water sources nationwide.

Government spokesman Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote Sukchoterat said the prime minister had instructed the Royal Irrigation and the Water Resources departments to oversee the mega-projects, which would go to the cabinet for consideration soon.

Under the Yuam-Bhumibhol water diversion project, water from the northern river will be diverted for a distance of some 200 kilometres to the dam's reservoir through a 61.8km-long underground tunnel and irrigation canals, said Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote.

He claimed that the board had already conducted an environmental impact assessment report and the public need not worry that the project might have any adverse impact.

The spokesman said a new agency would likely be set up to supervise the project and integrate work among all agencies concerned.

Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote said the project was expected to supply water to another one million rai of farmland in the dry season. It would benefit around 15 million people in the lower North, he said.

He also said the project to dredge natural water sources, such as Bung Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan province and Bung Sifai in Phichit province, was aimed at increasing their storage capacity since most of them had become very shallow due to sedimentation over the years.

During Mr Samak's official visit to Beijing on June 30, he will ask the Chinese government to help find Chinese construction companies which are interested in bidding for the dredging project, said Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote.

This was necessary because most Thai construction firms did not have the heavy machinery needed to do the job properly, he added.

Meanwhile, Water Resources Department chief Siripong Hungspreuk said his agency has already finished drafting the plan for the first phase of the 100-billion-baht nationwide water diversion project.

The plan would be submitted for cabinet approval next week, he said.

The first phase of the project, estimated to cost around 32 billion baht, involved only domestic water diversion, so the department could implement it right away after the cabinet gave the go-ahead, said Mr Siripong.

Under the plan, around 600 million cubic metres of water would be diverted from Huay Laung in the northeastern province of Nong Khai to Lam Pao dam in Kalasin province. The water would feed over one million rai of farmland in the Northeast.Water pumping stations would be set up at some mountainous spots to supply water across high terrain. The government would initially help shoulder the cost of water pumping estimated at 200 million baht a year, but water users would have to pay for it later, he said.

Regarding the prime minister's controversial plan to divert water from Laos, Mr Siripong said that so far no talks have been held between the governments of Thailand and Laos.

Environmentalist Sasin Chalermlarp, who is secretary-general of the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation, called on the government to carefully consider possible negative effects of the Huay Luang-Lam Pao water diversion project on local people.

The locals could be adversely affected by the expansion or construction of irrigation canals, he said."We fear that the affected villagers may not be given reasonable compensation by the government," he said.
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Will earthquake slow enthusiasm for dam-building in China?

mongabay.com

May 14, 2008

Monday's 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province left more than 15,000 dead, 26,000 missing, and 64,000 injured, according to state media. The quake also "seriously damaged" two hydroelectric stations in Maoxian county, leading authorities to warn that the dams could burst. More than 2,000 troops were sent to work on the Zipingku Dam, a dam said to be in "great danger" of collapse upriver from Dujiangyan, a city near the quake's epicenter. Overall, China's economic planning agency says that 391 dams in the region have been affected by the quake.

With China's hydroelectric projects already facing criticism for their social and environmental impact, the damage to China's dams from the earthquake renews the question of whether China's dam-building spree is the best path to meet surging energy demand in the country. China has ambitious plans to expand hydropower capacity, including more than a dozen power plants on the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Mekong rivers, but there are signs that the government may be having second thoughts at some sites.

 

In December China abandoned plans to build dams at Tiger Leaping Gorge, a popular tourist area in Yunnan Province, and Mugecuo Lake, a site in Sichuan Province. The government has also moved to re-evaluate other projects, including dams on the Nu River and at Yuanmingyuan Lake. More recently, officials have expressed concern over the impact of Three Gorges Dam —the world's largest hydropower project — which has been blamed for a host of problems ranging from water shortages to worsening pollution to catastrophic landslides. Some experts have warned that $22 billion dam could worsen the very floods it was build to control.

Aging dams

In government study released in January, China said that 37,000 of the country's 87,000 dams were "dangerously unstable" and in urgent need of repair. The country said it would spend more than $1.3 billion per year fixing vulnerable dams, many of which were poorly constructed in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Hydropower currently accounts for 6 percent of China's energy generation. Under a plan to boost the share of renewable energy produced in the country to 15 percent of total energy output, the government aims to triple hydroelectric capacity to 300 gigawatts by 2020.

** Update **

International Rivers, a U.S. environmental group, notes that China is building "scores of large dams in the country's southwest." It calls the plan "a risky proposition in an earthquake-prone area."

 

 

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Kachin Development Networking Group: Fear of future disasters should stop China's dam projects in Northern Burma


May 21, 2008
 
Fear of unnamed future disasters should stop China from going ahead with dam projects in Northern Burma.

The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) has strongly urged China to stop its current dam projects in Northern Burma to avoid a rerun of the dam disaster faced in China's earthquake hit Sichuan Province, the group leader said.

China warned three days after the magnitude of the earthquake, which was 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan on May 12, that if the dams in the earthquake zones burst, the floods could put millions in peril as a "secondary disaster", the state media Xinhua news agency reported.

The earthquake in China has killed over 40,000 people, however millions of people in the earthquake zone are living under great danger of hydroelectric power dams' bursting, the Xinhua report stated.

Meanwhile, the joint inspection team of China and Burma for the seven-dam projects, estimated to generate 13,360 MW, is underway in Kachin State in Northern Burma which is on the earthquake fault along with China's Yunnan Province.

They have plans to generate 3,600 MW of electricity on the Irrawaddy confluence (Myitsone) in Irrawaddy River, 2,000 MW project in Chibwe, 1,600 MW project in Pashe, 1,400 MW project in Lakin, 1,500 MW project in Phizaw, 1,700 MW project in Khaunglanhpu (Hkawnglang Hpu) in N'mai Hka River and, 1,560 MW project in Laiza in Mali Hka River in Kachin State.

The projects have been implemented by the Hydropower Project Implementation Department under the Ministry of Electric Power (1) and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) since 2006.

Heavy inspection has proceeded at Myitsone on the Irrawaddy River and Chibwe on the N'mai Hka River by Chinese engineers for the last two years, eyewitnesses said.

Mr. Awng Wa, Chairman of KDNG, warned, "If the seven dams are built in Kachin State, Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, will be at risk of floods from dams where an estimated population of 140,000 live. Hundreds of thousands of people in Waingmaw, Sinbo and Bhamo Townships along the Irrawaddy River will also live in the danger
zone."

The KDNG published a report titled "Damming the Irrawaddy" last year and urged both Chinese and Burmese governments to stop the dam projects in Myitsone, the Irrawaddy confluence, one of the best tourist attractions in northern Burma.

More related stories: www.kachinnews.com

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Nu River hydropower projects listed in the "11th Five Year Plan of Renewable Energy Development"

Yunnan Power News (Yundian Xinwen). 24 March 2008.

http://www.yn.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2008-03/24/content_12773412.htm

On March 18, the State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC) published the  “11th Five-Year Plan of Renewable Energy Development". The Plan clearly states that during the "11th Five-Year Plan" period, the state will start the development of the Liuku and Sai-ge Hydropower Stations on the Nu River (Nujiang River).

At the same time, the Plan clearly states that by the year 2010, the installed capacity of hydropower stations in Yunnan will reach 17 million kilowatts (17,000 MW), among which the Xiangjiaba, Baihetan, Guanyinyan, Ludila, Longpan, Liyuan and A-hai hydropower stations on Jinsha River, the Jinghong, Nuozhadu and Gongguoqiao hydropower stations on Lancang River, and the Liuku and Sai-ge hydropower stations on the Nu River are all listed as the "11th Five-Year Plan" key projects.

According to the "Plan", until 2010, China's renewable energy will reach 10% of the national energy consumption, and the amount of renewable energy consumed across the country will reach 300 million tons of standard coal.

During the "11th Five-Year Plan" period, the government will continue to arrange the central government's budget for investment in the planning and preparatory work of hydropower development in the upper reaches of the Jinsha River, the upper reaches of the Lancang River, the upper reaches of the Nu River, the Yarlung Zangbo River and the major rivers in Tibet.

The government shall strengthen the environmental work and attach importance to the environmental impact assessment of the hydropower construction. The government shall also strengthen the research and environmental work for the hydropower construction in the Lancang River, Nujiang River and other international rivers.

(Abstract and Translated by Kevin Li / Google Translate Beta)

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Thai EGAT Visits Sinohydro Office
 
    On the morning of March 10, president and vice-president of Thailand EGAT Organization and their party visited Sinohydro Corporation, and carried on a friendly discussion with deputy general manager of Sinohydro Corporation and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Internatiuonal Company Huang Baodong. Assistant of General Manager of the Group Corporation and general manager of International Company Zeng Xingliang and deputy general manager Song Dongsheng attended the meeting.
    At the symposium, both sides signed the supplement memorandum on Burmese Hajji Hydroelectric Power Station project on Salween River which was signed in June, 2006 in the Great Hall of the People signature, changed the stockholder's rights structure. According to the renewal memorandum, Sinohydro Corporation will become the holding side of Hajji project.
     The discussion carried on in a relaxed and happy atmosphere, both sides exchanged the opinion thoroughly on the cooperation of Sinohydro Corporation and EGAT in Thailand, Burma and Laos. Everybody thought that the bilateral cooperation is the association between strong enterprises, the superiority supplementary, reciprocity and mutual benefit, and conforms to various countries harmonious development and the common interest in the Mekong River inferior region.

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The Shan SAPAWA Environmental Organization has posted a new Chinese version of their report, Warning Signs, about
dam building in Burma's Shan State.

It is available at Salween Watch's Publications page

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http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/23/world/asia/23gorges.html

November 23, 2007

Landslide Toll Jumps as China Finds Bus Buried Near New Dam

BEIJING, Friday, Nov. 23 — Chinese authorities on Friday confirmed the deaths of about 30 more people from a landslide that struck this week in the Three Gorges Dam region. The news comes as Chinese officials are facing growing questions about environmental and geological problems related to the dam project.

Initial reports from state news media on Wednesday stated that one construction worker died, another was injured and two more were trapped in the landslide on Tuesday, at a railroad construction site in Badong County, upstream of the Three Gorges Dam.

But on Friday morning, Xinhua, the official news agency, released a short report saying that rescuers had discovered a passenger bus crushed beneath the rubble. It said “about 30 more people” were believed dead.

“Rescuers said there were no signs of life on the bus,” Xinhua reported. The bus apparently left Shanghai on Monday.

There has been no news about the two trapped workers.

It is not clear what caused this particular landslide, but scientists and critics have been warning for years that the reservoir created by the Three Gorges Dam might further destabilize hillsides, causing landslides and possibly even earthquakes. Officials countered that measures had been taken in the overall project to account for such concerns.

Recently, Chinese officials have been trying to tamp down growing controversy about the impact that the dam is having on the environment and the fragile geology in the region.

At a September forum about the dam, Chinese officials and experts discussed issues like water pollution, sedimentation and landslides and warned of a future environmental “catastrophe” if measures were not taken. At the meeting, a vice mayor from the city of Chongqing said the shoreline of the reservoir had collapsed in 91 places as water levels continued to slowly rise.

A day after the forum, Xinhua released a short article disclosing the official concerns. The article caused an immediate sensation, given that officials had rarely expressed misgivings about the signature project.

This week, Chinese officials have been making a major public relations push to play down problems at the dam. China Daily, the official English-language newspaper, ran an article across the front page beneath the banner headline: “Dam Impact ‘Less Than Predicted.’”

Landslides were a problem in the Three Gorges area before construction of the dam. Dam officials say they that have made improvements in recent years in stabilizing the region’s geology and that landslides are not a major problem.

But peasants in many villages say the number of landslides have increased since the reservoir began filling up. Several local officials have said that pressure from the rising water is a factor in many, if not all, recent landslides.

Currently, water levels are at about 500 feet. Planners intend to raise water levels to 575 feet by 2009.

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