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Yunnan Province in southwestern China, a formerly poor and clandestine region, is now experiencing rapid growth due to tourism and rural development. Mountainous northwestern Yunnan is home to the headwaters of three great river systems that run in parallel within about 30 km — the Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers, the former two flow through other Southeast Asian nations.

During a recent excursion to this area, I was shocked to see the extent of new mountain roads contributing heavy loads of sediment to these rivers. Major roads serving this region as well as smaller roads designed to link remote villages, hydropower plants and mining with cities are being built at a rapid pace.

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