Chinese Police Fire On Dam Protesters in Sichuan


Photo of police in Xiamen last year (Flickr: Stas Kulesh)

The struggle over dams in China's west has been brewing for years, fed by the kind of concerns that typically dog hydroelectric projects -- land grabs, relocations, corruption, environmental damage -- along with the less typical political and spiritual tensions surrounding Tibet. Earlier this week, the struggle got explosive, reports the Guardian.

Six Tibetan women were shot by China security forces during a protest over a hydroelectric dam project in Sichuan province, the Tibetan government-in-exile claimed today.

The women were demonstrating against a forcible relocation programme in Yajiang [ཉག་ཆུ༑], Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Region, on Sunday morning, when public security officers and armed police opened fire, according to the statement from Dharamsala.

As China mulls building dams in Tibet itself, this is another ugly lesson in the true costs of the country's huge energy demand -- a demand that will need to be met with energy sources other than coal.Tawu County, from Marshal and Cooke's Tibet Outside TAR

The dam in question, a major project between Nyagchu and Tawu County on a headwater tributary of the mighty Yangtze river, requires a large-scale displacement of local Tibetans who have inhabited the ancestral area for centuries.

As usual, details remain sketchy, and the fate of the injured protesters remains unclear. The report issued by the government-in-exile has yet to be independently verified, while the communications of local dam crusaders like Yu Xiaogang, a 2006 Goldman Prize winner who I interviewed last year, are monitored.

Central Government Be Damned
But the central government, which is said to be investigating the incident in Sichuan, has also expressed concerns over dam projects like these before. Thanks to the efforts of grassroots campaigners like Yu, the human and environmental costs of a proposed mega-dam project on the Salween (Nu) river led Beijing to call off that project in 2004. Recently, the foreign ministry restated the government's dedication to environmental impact assessments, which have become a common tool in hydroelectric development throughout China.

But those assessments aren't always implemented well -- or implemented at all. Premier Wen Jiabao recently renewed calls to halt dam work on the Nu river, work that, far from the auspices of Beijing, appeared to be continuing in secret. (It's worth remembering here that, according to Beijing-based environmental lawyer Wang Canfa, the rate of China's environmental laws and regulations that are actually enforced is only around 10%.)

Other Impacts
Aside from relocation, Chinese residents who depend on the Yangtze have reason to worry about other effects downstream. Chinese officials have indicated that by 2020 about 50% of the Yangtze River's hydropower resources will be tapped, up from about 36% today. By 2030, they estimate, about 60% of the electricity-producing potential of China's longest river will have been harnessed.

Increased use of the Yangtze's water for agriculture or industry -- it's estimated to hit 30 percent by 2030, up from 17.8% today -- will come alongside decreasing rainfall due to the effects of climate change.

Gold To Die For in Tibet
In a separate standoff in Tibet proper, hundreds of Tibetans are said to be facing off against armed security forces at Ser Ngol Lo, the site of a planned gold mine in Chamdo Prefecture. The mine project, which would be located at a mountain sacred to Tibetans, has drawn local opposition for months. On May 16, a contingent of 300 police and security forces arrived, but as many as 500 Tibetans blocked the road leading to the planned mine.

"They blocked all phones and even cellphones aren't reachable," said one resident. Said another: the protesters "are ready to die to protect the sacred hill."

Also see Tibetan Plateau

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Hydropower on China's Nu River, Alternatives to Huge Dams (Video Clip)
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Tags: Beijing | China | Dams

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