Report sounds alarm for Yangtze and its wildlife

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 12:00am

The Yangtze River is the world's most endangered waterway and its wildlife faces extinction due to excessive damming, an international environmental group says.

In a new report entitled Rivers at Risk, the World Wide Fund for Nature warned that many of the rare animal species living in the 5,550km-long river basin cannot survive the threat.

'China - the country with the highest number of dams planned or under construction in the world - may lose endangered species such as the Yangtze River dolphin and many water birds if indiscriminate dam-building continues to destroy their habitats,' it said.

The report said 46 dams were planned and under construction in the river basin, the world's most densely populated with more than 400 million people living on its banks. The dams would join thousands of others already built on the river and its watershed, including the massive Three Gorges Dam.

The report said dams altered the river's natural environment by reducing and blocking water flows, placing in jeopardy 332 species of fish and 169 amphibian species.

If the damage continues, the WWF warned that rare animals including the Chinese alligator (the world's most threatened crocodilian), the finless porpoise (the world's only freshwater-adapted porpoise) and the Yangtze River dolphin will vanish.

While acknowledging the benefits provided by the dams, such as irrigation, flood protection and electricity, the report urged decision-makers to minimise their social, economic and environmental impact.

The report suggested that efficient water use should be a top priority and that internationally accepted standards be applied on the dam projects, such as increasing public participation in the decision-making process, comprehensive assessment of all options and post-project reviews.

'Dam-construction projects often proceed with little attention to cumulative impacts and alternatives,' said Ute Collier, head of WWF's Dams Initiative. 'We must not destroy ecosystems that provide clean and sustainable water.'