The site comprises fifteen protected areas in eight clusters. The evaluation of the nomination submitted by China carried out by IUCN and reviewed by the 27th session of the Committee noted: “The General Management Plan, however, was of concern because it currently has a much greater emphasis on development (especially through tourism) than on nature conservation. The Plan mentions increases in the use of hydro power which, at the micro level, can provide clean energy, but at more extensive levels could be potentially damaging to the natural values of the main rivers”. Based on IUCN recommendations, the Committee’s decision (27 COM 8C.4, paragraph 3) “Notes concern over the nature and extent of future tourism and hydro development that may affect the nominated property”.
When IUCN visited Yunnan to evaluate the nominated site in 2002, it was not made aware of specific hydropower development proposals at the time. In 2004, reports were received by IUCN and UNESCO of proposals to construct a total of 13 dams on the Nu Jiang River, a number of which were reported to fall within the existing World Heritage area. On 24 February 2004 the Director of the Centre sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO requesting information on the status of the proposal and the current policy regarding the protection of the World Heritage area. No response to the letter had been received at the time of the preparation of this document.
From preliminary information, IUCN reports the following on the project:
(a) 13 dams are planned in the region, but the overall Plan is yet to be approved by the State Development and Reform Committee;
(b) one site, the Bin Zhong Luo dam, is proposed to be located within the World Heritage property;
(c) the remaining 12 proposed dam sites are outside, but are in close proximity to the World Heritage area;
(d) the proposed dam directly downstream from the Bin Zhong Luo dam, i.e. the Majie dam, though outside, will directly impact the World Heritage area; and
(e) the dam, Song Ta in Tibet, also outside, would have a major influence on the quality and periodicity of water flowing through the World Heritage area.
IUCN has reported to the Centre its grave concerns on this potential development project and wishes to bring the following to the attention of the Committee:
(a) This World Heritage property is the epicentre of Chinese biodiversity, containing over 6,000 plant species and over 50% of China’s animal species. The Nu Jiang River has been described as the “last great free flowing river” of China (as well as in South East Asia). The construction of any dam within this World Heritage property, or outside but with significant impacts on the integrity of the World Heritage property, is incompatible with its World Heritage status;
(b) Dam construction will have both direct and indirect impacts. Direct impacts will be loss of natural flora and fauna due to construction and subsequent flooding of riparian and other ecosystems. Indirect impacts include those associated with dam construction activities, e.g. road development, inflow of construction workers and leakage of fuel/oil into riparian ecosystems etc;
(c) The relocation of a number of local communities, mainly ethnic hill people, is also of concern; and
(d) Significant downstream, transboundary ecological impacts are foreseen in neighbouring countries south of China;
(e) IUCN noted that any dam construction within the World Heritage property would provide the basis for inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
At the time of the preparation of this report, unconfirmed reports of the intervention of the Prime Minister of China to review the dam construction proposal and its environmental impacts have been received. Many Chinese academicians, conservationists and scientists are urging the Government to let China’s last free-flowing river, the Nu Jiang, remain natural. A formal response from the State Party to the letter of 24 February 2004 the Director of the Centre is awaited.