Government accused of Salween hydropower cover-up during UNESCO visit
Shanghai. April 19. INTERFAX-CHINA - The journalist and environmental activist Wang Yongchen told Interfax that the local authorities in the Salween (Nu) River region in Yunnan Province covered up a number of hydropower construction sites during a visit to the area by a delegation from UNESCO.
"The local government showed a terrible attitude towards the UN investigations," Wang said.
She said that during the delegation's visit to the Nu River Prefecture, situated on Yunnan's Tibetan border, local government workers had been employed to cover construction sites with cloth and conceal ships used for engineering.
She also claimed that construction of the hydropower plants, which have not yet been formally approved by the central government, has already got underway.
Experts from the UNESCO World Heritage Center began a three-day tour of the "Three Parallel Rivers" on April 9. The Nu, Jinsha and Lancang (Mekong) rivers all flow through the prefecture.
During the three-day trip, experts including Nikita Lopoukhine, the chairman of IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, and R.. Jayakumar, the Program Specialist in Science, Technology and Environment of UNESCO's Beijing Office, were looking into the conservation work on the Nu River and conducting on-site investigations, accompanied by state and local officials.
On 2 July 2003, the "Three Parallel Rivers" region was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. As required by UNESCO's World Heritage Center, each site should be monitored and investigated three years after being listed.
According to the Nu River Daily, the UNESCO delegation highly praised the efforts and contributions made to protect this area for the ethnic minorities living in the prefecture.
However, Wang Yongchen, a journalist with China National Radio from 1986 and the founder of the Green Earth Volunteers NGO in 1996, disagreed with the assessment.
Wang said that she had found on several visits to the area that local villagers did not receive any information from the government about development plans. "In my interviews in January and February [this year], villagers said that the government had told them nothing about local hydropower development," she said. "They are all relying on rumors."
She said that the environmental impact assessment had not yet been disclosed to the public, but construction has already started.
"The government should tell the villagers about the dam construction," Wang said.
She said that some local villagers have not bothered to fertilize their farmland because they assume that the land will soon be flooded.
Some have suggested that hydropower construction will alleviate the poverty of local villagers, but Wang, echoing other opponents of China's dam building, believes that hydropower construction has nothing to do with poverty alleviation.
Wang said that some households have been encouraged to move to Simao in southern Yunnan, where they were told that living conditions were better. However, when they moved to the area, they found that they could not get the compensation and help that the government had promised them.
Because they could not earn enough money to survive in Simao, they returned home and discovered that that their farmland had already been seized.
Wang said that villagers believed they could, at best, achieve the same standard of living after relocation.
In any case, Wang said, improving standards of living was not the highest priority for many villagers. "Some young men have been to large cities, but they don't like the city life. Villagers are quite satisfied with life at the moment," she said.
After several visits to the Nu River Prefecture, Wang Yongchen believed that the environment there has already suffered damage.
"Rocks on the cliff of the Songta Gorge, which has the most fantastic scenery in the Nu River area, have already been devastated by quarrying." Wang said.
"And mud-rock flows hit the region more frequently now," she said. "Some workers with the engineering team told me that they saw around 20 passers-by dead after mud-rock flows."
"The local geology is really fragile." Wang said.