Double threat on the Nu River

Back in April, Katy Yan of US-based non-profit International Rivers made a journey along the Nu River valley, the focus of intense debate over hydropower development, speaking to local people about their views on dam construction.

Like many before her, she concluded that pressing ahead with plans for a 13-dam cascade (once defeated in 2004 but recently revived) would be a perilous and irrational move for this seismically vulnerable biodiversity hotspot in south-west China and the people who live there. Writing on chinadialogue following her trip, Yan said:

The Nu River valley in Yunnan province – known as China’s Grand Canyon – sits at the epicentre of China’s seismic zone. This dramatic landscape is also wracked by torrential rains that kill dozens of people each year. But in spite of the constant threat of landslides, life teems here. Unlike America’s Grand Canyon, the Nu valley is dotted with hundreds of towns and villages, many of which perch precariously on the mountainside.

However, the valley’s fragile resilience is hanging in the balance, threatened by the recently revived proposal to build a 13-dam cascade along the main body of the Nu River, one of three waterways that form the famed Three Parallel Rivers world heritage site and the heart of China’s cultural and biological diversity. If it goes ahead, the cascade would displace 50,000 people and ruin one of China’s most important biodiversity hotspots.

Yan has now produced a short video, highlighting the “double threat” the region faces – seismic activity and dam failure – which International Rivers plans to use in a campaign to keep the river “as free-flowing as possible”.

The work of domestic and international NGOs seven years ago culminated in the suspension of the Nu River dam cascade – one of the biggest success stories in river protection. Can they do it again?