Damming the Upper Mekong

How new dams in southwest China are displacing upland peoples – Brian Eyler

An excerpt from Last Days of the Mighty Mekong


Just south of where the stream draining the Yubeng Valley flows into the Mekong, the river cuts sharply through a series of steep S-shaped canyons. A few years ago, the dirt path along the river’s eastern side was paved into a new highway. The road is most traveled by Tibetans on motorcycles or oversized dump trucks hauling minerals and sand from local mines and quarries. Small Tibetan villages of 30 or 40 homes made of stone, wood and sod cling to the hospitable parts of the canyon’s few terraces. Multi-colored prayer flags connect each red-roofed home to the local temple or Buddhist shrine. Sometimes the ends of these lines disappear high into the mountainside. Halfway up the canyon, the occasional white stupa keeps watch over these villages. Simple suspension bridges, sturdy enough only for pedestrian or motorcycle traffic, span the river. Not all villages on the opposite side of the canyon have bridge access, and their residents must travel a few kilometers downstream to the next village to reach the paved road.