Wen again delays Nu River dam work

China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, has again halted work on a controversial dam-building project on the Nu (Salween) River, one of the country’s last free-flowing waterways, the South China Morning Post reported. The newspaper said Wen ordered a halt to work on the Liuku hydropower station in Yunnan Province in April, calling for more environmental assessment.

The premier told authorities not to resume preparation work until the dam’s impact on the ecology and on local communities was fully understood, according to the paper. Because of the project’s “far-reaching impact”, Wen said the authorities should “widely heed opinions, expound on [the plan] thoroughly and make prudent decisions”.

This is the second time that Wen has backed calls to put the Liuku plan on hold. In February 2004, after a public outcry, he ordered a suspension until the project’s social and environmental impact had been “carefully discussed and scientifically decided”.

The Yunnan government and the state-owned power giant China Huadian plan as many as 13 dams on the middle and lower reaches of the Nu River. Capacity would total 21,320 megawatts – about 17% more than the massive Three Gorges Dam.

Local officials say tapping the river’s power is essential for wiping out widespread poverty in the region, but villages have complained of forced eviction and unfair compensation. In addition to overlooking the grave impact on communities, opponents argue, the proposal also fails to consider the river’s unique ecosystem. Downstream communities and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation also have voiced objections.

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