Academics, green activists press Beijing to release key report on Nu River dam
Mainland environmental groups and activists have renewed their appeal to the central government to come clean on the controversial damming of the Nu River in Yunnan .
In an open letter issued last week, they called for the release of a mandatory environmental impact assessment on the project and a public hearing on the issue.
Signatories to the letter include renowned university academics, social and environmental scientists, mainland media representatives and non-governmental groups such as Green Earth Volunteers, Friends of Nature and Global Village of Beijing.
The project to build up to 13 dams on the Nu River, also known as the Salween in downstream countries, was halted in 2004 by Premier Wen Jiabao amid fierce public opposition over compensation and mounting environmental concerns.
Although Mr Wen reportedly pledged a comprehensive green assessment four years ago, Beijing has remained deliberately ambiguous about the fate of the project and the whereabouts of the report necessary for the work to go ahead.
The letter said: 'Such a major decision will be illegal under existing laws and regulations if [the project] goes ahead without public participation. The decision will also lack public support and can hardly stand the test of time.'
The letter noted that the plight of Xiaoshaba villagers, the first batch of people displaced by the damming of the Nu River, failed to support the government's main proposition behind the hydropower project.
'Considering the livelihoods of the villagers, there is still quite a big gap from the promise that the living standards of the evictees will not be affected adversely,' it said.
'It is totally unacceptable if Nu River villagers are made to suffer by the hydropower development, which is allowed in the name of poverty reduction and at the expense of the environment.'
The environmentalists also noted that the industries investing in the impoverished mountainous region because of the economic benefits of the dam project were energy-intensive and heavily polluting, according to mainland media reports.
'It will be a disaster if the dam-building project causes further damage to the already fragile ecosystem of the river,' said Wang Yongchen , from Green Earth Volunteers.
Citing a slogan put forward by President Hu Jintao at last year's Communist Party Congress, the letter called on the government to protect the main waterways and give more attention to the needs of disadvantaged people.
'We strongly appeal for an abrupt change to the usually closed decision-making process on hydropower development by inviting the participation of all parties concerned, taking into account the multiple social goals and making full compensation to the affected people and the environment,' it concluded.
Zhou Xiaozheng , a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said the letter reflected widespread concerns over the government's decision-making.
'The government must make a cautious decision on the controversial project,' Professor Zhou said. 'We must not derive pleasure out of other people's pain.'
It was the second open letter that mainland environmentalists had issued on the damming of the Nu River. Environmental assessments have been widely accepted on the mainland as an effective way for otherwise powerless environmentalists to make their opinions heard.