Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
particularly during the summer monsoon season, deposit rain in the westernmost valleys
before slowly petering outasthey move inland, creating markedly different ecological con-
ditions from one valley to the next. An overland trek of 50 kilometers from west to east
will take a person from a lush biome with ferns and orchids to dry slopes covered in scrub
and cacti.
The struggle to balance economic development and environmental protection increas-
ingly involves both domestic and international players. In 2003, the United Nations Educa-
tional, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated fifteen protected areas
The designation includes approximately one million hectares of “core” protected areas
and nearly 700,000 hectares of “buffer” areas in which limited human activity is allowed.
The Nature Conservancy, working in close association with the Yunnan provincial govern-
ment, is also active in land conservation and has advocated for turning Xianggelila County
(Zhongdian changed its name to the mythical “Shangri-La” in 2003 in pursuit of tour-
ism revenue) into a national park. Pudacuo National Park, a majestic landscape of moun-
tains and alpine lakes located a few short kilometers away from the cobblestone lanes of
Shangri-La Old Town, was established in 2007 to preserve the region as a “biodiversity hot
spot,”oneoftherichest reservoirs offloraandfaunaonearth; itisthefirstinChina tomeet
the standards of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Around the world, most sensitive areas targeted for conservation represent a balancing
act between the use of natural resources for human development and the imperative for
environmental protection. In China, which over the past several decades has undergone
economic and infrastructural development on an unprecedented scale and at a breakneck
pace, the balancing act is particularly precarious. China's rivers hold massive undeveloped
capacity for hydropower generation, an attractive proposition in a country where energy
demands for manufacturing and household consumption are escalating rapidly and where
three-quarters ofcurrentelectricity supplyismetbycoal-fired powerplants.Thesouthwest
region, with its rugged topography and high-volume, glacier-fed rivers, is home to the ma-
jor share of China's vast hydropower potential. Development plans involving central-gov-
ernment ministries, provincial-government authorities, and limited-liability hydropower-
development corporations are moving forward rapidly; China's Twelfth Five-Year Plan for
Economic Development, released in 2011, specifically recommends pushing forward with
the development of dams in the region, which is home to three of the country's thirteen
so-called hydropower bases ( shuidian jidi ), areas targeted for the construction of large,
electricity-producing dams.
Yunnan Province contains the upper reaches of five major river systems—the Pearl, the
Jinsha, the Lancang, the Nu, and the Irrawaddy—which collectively have more than 600
tributaries and contain 221 billion cubic meters of water (Ma Jun 2004:178). This topic fo-
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