Dam Building in Yunnan
By Xu Xiaodan, China Daily, China
Despite increasing concerns over the social and environmental impacts
of China’s Manwan Dam, the country continues its plan to build a cascade
of eight dams across the Mekong River in Yunnan Province.
power stations are a key part of China’s west-east power transmission
plan. They will be a great incentive for the economic-adjustment and
poverty-alleviation efforts of Yunnan Province," said Bai Enpei, Party
Secretary of the province.
The hydropower development forms
part of China’s "Go West" campaign, which aims to narrow the growing
gap between China’s fast-developing eastern regions and the relatively
underdeveloped southwest region. An important part of this campaign is for
the West to supply energy to the industrial regions of the east –
Shanghai, Guangdong, and Jiangsu.
However, Yu Xiaogang,
director of Green Watershed, a Chinese environmental NGO, said, "there is
limited domestic market for Yunnan due to competition from other
With the help of the Asian Development Bank
(ADB), Yunnan plans to tap the energy market in the downstream Greater
Sub-Region countries. From 2013, 3,000 mw of electricity will be sold to
Thailand, according to a memorandum between China and
However, there is concern that these massive
development projects in the Lancang-Mekong River will have a detrimental
social and environmental impact on both local and downstream inhabitants
of the Mekong basin.
"China’s building of dams may offer
something good for navigation and irrigation, but the dams will also have
a negative effect on fish, vegetable gardening and the ecology of the
river," said Ian Baird, director of the Global Association for the
People and Environment (GAPE), an NGO based in Laos.
4,880-kilometer-long Mekong River, originating from China’s Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau and running through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
into the South China Sea, is home to more than 60 million people. Most of
them rely on fishing and riverbank farming for the
Extensive dam building has caused deforestation and
sedimentation in the Mekong upstream, said Yu, who has 20 years of
experience in watershed resource management in Yunnan Province and who
assessed the social impact of Manwan on local people.
Pingzhang Village, “the meadow, a large part of paddy rice fields plus
part of arid land and forest were inundated,” Yu’s Social Impact
Assessment (SIA) said.
"Villagers lost their livelihood. They are
poorer than before. Some of them even suffer from psychosis," Yu
Yu also points out the dam has lost about a third of
its capacity through silting.
The degradation of the
environment is blamed for a growing number of natural disasters in the
province. This year there were landslides, one of which hit the
construction site of Xiaowan Dam.
Some experts also point out
that China’s dam building contributed to this year severe flooding
downstream. " A dam reservoir could release 20 percent more water
downstream, when it is under pressure from too much rain," said
David Hubbel, an environmentalist of Towards Ecological Recovery and
Regional Alliance based in Bangkok.
" (There is) emerging
recognition among China’s leaders that large-scale infrastructure projects
may benefit the country but they also have a social and environmental
impact," Yu wrote in a recent article.
concerns over environmental problems brought about by dam construction,
the Chinese Government has given top priority to environmental protection
in the area while carrying out development, claims Xinhua News
Two weeks ago, a new law came into force in China.
This requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be incorporated
into the planning and decision-making for all large-scale
A comprehensive plan for environmental protection
in the Lancang-Mekong River basin has been launched in Yunnan. Natural
conservation areas are reserved and anti-desertification campaigns are
being carried out along the river.
About 200 million yuan
(US$ 24.1 million) has been allocated for tree planting in the
Aware of the growing criticism, China has initiated
dialogue in river management with downstream nations. This year, Yunnan
starts to provide hydrological data, such as water levels and rainfall, on
a daily basis to the Mekong River Commission (MRC). They hope this will
allow downstream countries to take early flood prevention
"Losses caused by flooding in Mekong River
countries have been greatly reduced thanks to hydrological data from
China," said the letter sent by the MRC in July to the Yunnan
The government is also starting to pay more
attention to the impact on the livelihood of local people, especially
those resettled people, caused by the dam building.
August, the central government ordered Yunnan to reduce the social and
ecological impact on local people displaced by the Manwan
Now, as the Xiaowan Dam is being constructed, more than
41,000 people are to be relocated. Their compensation is running at a rate
considerably higher than that paid for Manwan Dam. Each farmer would
receive 30,000 yuan (US$ 3,600) as compensation.
people see some value in the dams. Due to the increase of employment
opportunities related to the dam construction, Zhao Yulei, head of the
Xiaowan township said, " our per capita annual income increased from 370
yuan (US$ 44.60) in 1999 to 801 yuan (US$ 96.50) in
But some experts also expressed their concerns over
villagers’ livelihood after the construction period.
governments and international financial institutions that are planning,
funding and building large dams in the Mekong River must make a much
greater effort to study the potential impact and cost of these projects
before construction begins," stressed