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Biophysical, Socioeconomic, and Geopolitical Vulnerabilities to Hydropower Development on the Nu River, China

Desiree D. Tullos, Oregon State University
Eric Foster-Moore, The World Bank
Darrin Magee, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Bryan Tilt, Oregon State University
Aaron T. Wolf, Oregon State University
Edwin Schmitt, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Francis Gassert, World Resources Institute
Kelly Kibler, Oregon State University


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Rapid hydropower development is occurring in China’s Yunnan province in response to increasing clean energy demands, exposing potential vulnerabilities of the area’s ecosystems, communities, and geopolitical systems. Here, we present original data on the cultures, economics, hydro-politics, and environments of the Nu River basin, based on household surveys, analysis of geopolitical events, and hydrological, hydraulic, and landscape modeling. We identify sources of vulnerability and investigate relationships among biophysical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical elements that contribute to vulnerability. Our results illustrate the role of geographic isolation in intensifying vulnerability to hydropower development and how access to information, data uncertainty, and geopolitics influence the vulnerability of people and the environment. We emphasize specific needs for developing support mechanisms for social, ecological, and political groups that are vulnerable to hydropower development.

Key words

China; dams; hydroelectric power; hydro-politics; international rivers; Nu River; resettlement; Salween River; vulnerability; Yunnan Province

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087