Southeast Asia’s last major undammed river in crisis

China has suspended dams upstream of the Salween but the Myanmar government is pushing ahead with Chinese backed dams downstream, despite environmental costs and cheaper alternatives. From the snow-capped mountains of Tibet, the Salween rushes through steep gorges in Yunnan Province and flows through four of Myanmar’s ethnic states before emptying into the Andaman Sea. With dams on hold upstream, Yunnan’s provincial chief Li Jiheng expressed support in 2016 for a national park to stimulate this region’s tourism in the upper Salween (the Nu River) which already attracts many visitors to the ‘Three Parallel Rivers’ World Heritage site. Although Li Jiheng was recently replaced by Chen Hao, it is hoped that the dams will remain suspended. Paul Sein Twa, chairman of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network commented, “If China does not build dams on the Salween, Myanmar also should not build any. They should work together. This river should flow freely starting from the river’s source to its mouth”.

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