By Stuart Leavenworth
Liuku, China, May 18, 2016
On a roadside next to the Nu River, Xiong Xiangnan is trying to sell fish to tourists. He doesn’t look like a traditional fisherman. Xiong sports a pompadour and wears a brown jacket, jeans, and white Crocs, with a money purse slung across one shoulder. As several of his friends stand around smoking, Xiong makes his pitch.
The fish were very hard to catch, he says. The nets must be set at night and checked early in the morning. That’s why he’s charging 240 yuan—about $37—for the biggest trophy in his buckets.
Behind Xiong, the Nu River flows freely, bumbling with rapids, swirling with eddies. Some of this water has spilled down from glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, filling a channel that snakes 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) through China, then Myanmar and Thailand, before spilling into the Andaman Sea.
Xiong is asked about the government’s plans, hatched in 2003, to build hydroelectric dams on the Nu, the last free-flowing river in China. One of these would sit downstream in Liuku, a township of 45,000 people in Yunnan Province, near China’s border with Myanmar.
“We have heard about the dams, many years ago,” responds the 20-year-old farmhand, who catches fish for extra money. “But the government has not approved them yet. We do not think about it very much.”
And what if the Nu is dammed? “It will pollute the water and hurt the fish,” he says. “It will not be good for us.”
Image: National Geographic
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