Yunnan party boss hints gorge dam may be scrapped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

A top Yunnan official has strongly hinted that a controversial plan to dam the world-famous Tiger Leaping Gorge may be scrapped, citing strong public opposition and environmental concerns.

The remarks by Yunnan party secretary Bai Enpei yesterday were the strongest indication yet by the province that the much-criticised dam proposal near a world heritage site was likely to be dropped.

The South China Morning Post reported in December that Yunnan had backed away from damming the spectacular gorge and was considering a less contentious dam site 200km upstream along the Jinsha (Yangtze) River, which could reduce the number of people to be displaced by up to 80 per cent.

Speaking at the annual National People's Congress meeting, Mr Bai said the damming of the gorge had met strong opposition from experts.

'A large number of experts have pointed out that the cost of the dam proposal was too high, citing its ecological impact, the huge number of people and the area of fertile land to be affected,' he said. 'We will have to follow their opinions.'

Local officials had proposed a dam 276 metres high to generate 88.3 billion kWh of electricity a year.

Yunnan has insisted on damming the Jinsha, saying it was essential for a 50 billion yuan (HK$54.87 billion) canal project to divert water from the river to quench the thirst of the province's central region - including the provincial capital, Kunming - and flush the polluted Dianchi Lake.

The alternative site is in a Tibetan-populated area at Qizong, Weixi county.

'We will have to choose between the two dam-building plans after the completion of environmental assessment,' Mr Bai said.

'We can't guarantee everyone will be happy with our final decision. All we can do is to go ahead with the one that has the least environmental impact, gets most support from experts and could protect the interests of the affected people.'

Mr Bai and other Yunnan officials denied that another contentious proposal to dam one of the country's last free-flowing rivers, the Nu (Salween), was allowed to go ahead.