China dam to force 4m to relocate
mark at tlio.org.uk
Fri Oct 12 14:37:26 BST 2007
China dam to force 4m to relocate
by Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Friday October 12, 2007
China plans to move at least 4 million people from their homes to
ensure the "environmental safety" of the Three Gorges Dam, state
The shift of a population the size of Ireland, which is due to take
place over the next 10 to 15 years, will be one of the biggest
environmental resettlements in modern history.
The Chongqing municipality vice-mayor, Yu Yuanmu, said the move was
necessary to protect the ecology of the giant reservoir formed by the
dam, according to the Xinhua news agency.
"On one hand, the reservoir area has a vulnerable environment, and
the natural conditions make large scale urbanisation or serious
overpopulation impossible here," he was quoted as saying.
Under Chongqing's 2007-20 rural and urban development plan, more than
4 million people currently living close to the dam's reservoir will
be encouraged to resettle in the suburbs of the city, the Sina
No details were given, but the move will add to the population
pressures in Chongqing, which is already one of China's fastest
growing cities, and raise new questions about the wisdom of building
the Three Gorges Dam.
The barrier was designed to control floods on the Yangtze and to
reduce China's dependence on power driven by coal. But
environmentalists and human rights groups have warned of dire
consequences for the eco-system and local residents.
More than 1.2 million people have already been forced to leave the
area because of the world's biggest hydroelectric project.
The last of 16m tonnes of concrete was poured into the vast barrier a
year ago, creating a reservoir that stretches back almost 400 miles.
Initially hailed as an engineering triumph, officials warned last
month that the dam could cause an "environmental catastrophe" unless
remedial measures were taken.
Landslides and pollution were among the "hidden dangers" that have
come to light since the barrier's completion, they said.
Because the water flow has been slowed, environmentalists warn the
reservoir could stagnate as it fills with human and industrial waste
from heavily populated riverside communities.
Chinese government acknowledges Three Gorges Dam "disaster"
By John Chan
12 October 2007
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After hailing the huge Three Gorges Dam for years as a major national
achievement, the Chinese government has admitted for the first time
that the project could be a disastrous failure with damaging
environmental consequences. The about-face is not a revision of
Beijing's promotion of the unfettered operation of capitalist market.
Just a year from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it is trying to improve
China's ugly global image as a manufacturer of shoddy goods, a giant
sweatshop and a huge industrial polluter.
The Three Gorges Dam is located in the middle of the Yangtze River,
with a total power generating capacity of 22,500 megawattsfar larger
than the world second largest dam in South America. Commenced in
1994, it has cost more than $US25 billion and is still not fully
completed. Pushed by former President Jiang Zemin as a prestige
project, the dam came to symbolise Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
policy in 1990s of "opening up" to foreign capital. Public criticism
of the dam was suppressed.
Now a different assessment is being made. On September 26, the
official Xinhua news agency reported a high-level meeting of
government officials at which "the many ecological and environmental
problems concerning the Three Gorges Dam" were acknowledged.
Participants expressed concern that "if no preventive measures are
taken, the project could lead to catastrophe." Wang Xiaofeng, the
head of the Three Gorges Dam Project of the State Council declared:
"We cannot win passing economic prosperity at the cost of the
The meeting discussed the glaring problems previously unacknowledged
by the authorities. The most serious were landslides caused by the
600-kilometre reservoir that began to fill last year. Tan Qiwei, the
vice mayor of Yangtze's major city Chongqing, pointed out that
slippages had occurred at 91 places along the reservoir, and that 36
kilometres of shoreline had caved in. He said the landslides had
produced waves of up to 50 metres high. A number of farmers and
fishermen have been killed in recent months.
The experts also warned of the danger of sedimentation caused by the
reduced speed of the Yangtze water flow behind the dam. The rising
silt levels could eventually make sections of the Yangtze impassible
for shipping and even block the sluice gates with potentially
disastrous consequences. In August 1975, the Banqiao Dam's sluice
gates were blocked amid heavy rainfall leading to severe flash
flooding that killed 26,000 people. Another 145,000 perished from
subsequent famine and disease.
Aquatic life in the Yangtze and its tributaries is also in danger.
Severe water pollution has resulted from chaotic industrial expansion
over the past decade to take advantage of the power and transport
opportunities promised by the Three Gorges Dam. Unregulated logging
in the surrounding areas has weakened the river banks, increasing the
risk of landslides. In recent years, the authorities have closed or
relocated 1,500 factories and built more than 70 waste treatment
plants, as well as spending $1.5 billion to geologically stabilise
the area. The underlying problems remain, however.
There is an immediate political motive in declaring the Three Gorges
Dam to be a "disaster" just three weeks before this month's key 17th
national CCP congress. Criticism of a project closely identified with
former President Jiang Zemin and his faction can only assist the
current President Hu Jintao and his supporters to consolidate their
grip on top leadership committees. Moreover, one of the disputes
between the two factions centres on the pace of economic development.
Unlike Jiang, Hu has sought to rein in economic growth and
speculative investment out of concern for economic instability.
An article by London-based Times on September 27 pointed out that Hu
distanced himself from the Three Gorges Dam by staying away from the
completion ceremonies last year. Dai Qing, an environmental activist
told the newspaper that after suppressing criticism for years, "they
[Beijing] are starting to hear." "The Government knows it has made a
mistake. Now they are afraid that the catastrophe that they cannot
prevent will spark civil unrest. So they want to go public before the
troubles start," she said.
Open for investment
Jiang came to power amid the brutal crackdown on anti-government
protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Chinese premier at the time
was Li Peng, who directly ordered troops to open fire. Li was also
the principal advocate for the Three Gorges Dam. A widely reported
reason was that his family had large business interests in the
country's lucrative power generating industry. The crackdown and the
dam were both important signals to foreign investors that China was
open for business.
After the Tiananmen Square massacre, foreign investment flooded into
China, secure in the knowledge that Beijing would not hesitate to
suppress social unrest. In 1992, Li pressured the National People's
Congress (NPC) to rubber stamp the Three Gorges Dame project, but
only 67 percent of delegates approved itthe lowest vote for any bill
in history. Nevertheless, the decision encouraged a rush by all
levels of government to build infrastructure, to attract investors
and impress their political superiors. The prime example has been the
re-emergence of Shanghai as the metropolitan centre of Chinese
China's economic boom has generated explosive social tensions. The
gap between rich and poor is widening, official corruption is rife
and pollution is leading to environmental disasters. The frenzied
building of apartments, hotels, highways and industrial parks has
produced a speculative bubble in real estate development, alongside a
skyrocketing stock market. Powerful sections of the business elite
and local party bosses want the country's roaring economic growth
rates to continue unimpeded.
Hu's attempts at "macroeconomic control" have had little impact. The
US subprime crisis and the decision to cut interest rates have come
into conflict with China's need to lift rates to control cheap credit
for speculative projects. Hu purged the Shanghai party leadership
last September, because of its resistance to his attempts to control
the "overheated" economy. The criticisms of the Three Gorges Dam are
another warning shot to those intent on profiteering from
The last consideration in the debate over the dam is the needs of
working people and the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.
Despite its shortcomings, the dam has demonstrated the potential for
harnessing the Yangtze's water power. It is an important safety valve
to control the Yangtze's destructive floods and provides much needed
electricity throughout central China as well as opening up new
sections of the river for large vessels in the economically important
Given previous experiences with dams on the Yellow River, the
designers of the Three Gorges Dam claimed to have established a
number of mechanisms to deal with sedimentation. To reduce the risk
of silt accumulating behind the Three Gorges Dam, Chinese authorities
outlined plans to build four new dams upstream. Collectively, these
dams will produce 38,500 megawatts of power, almost doubling the
Three Gorges Dam's capacity.
When ship-lifting facilities at the Three Gorges Dam are completed,
it is estimated that Yangtze shipping will increase from 10 million
tonnes to 50 million tonnes per year, cutting transport costs by one
third. According to official estimates, the dam's hydropower will
reduce China's coal consumption by 31 million tonnes per year, thus
cutting the emission of greenhouse gases, dust and other discharges
from coal-powered thermal plants.
The main cause of the environmental problems is not the dam itself,
but Beijing's pro-market policies, which are creating similar
disasters throughout the country. Some 300 million people lack access
to clean water due to severe industrial pollution in rivers and
lakes. The unregulated exploitation of land for agricultural and
mining activities has caused the rapid advance of desertsfrom making
up 17.6 percent of China's land area in 1994 to 27.5 percent today.
Some 760,000 people die prematurely each year due to air and water
pollution. According to some analysts, China could overtake the US
this year as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Having ignored environmental problems for years, the Chinese
authorities have been forced to consider the issues due to the impact
on the economy and the lifestyles of the emerging wealthy elite.
International financial circles have frequently noted that poor air
quality in Hong Kong, caused by factory complexes in neighbouring
Guangdong, is a minus for its "investing environment".
Significantly, very little has been said of the social dislocation
caused by the Three Gorges Dam which has displaced 1.2 million
people. Compensation for the residents in 129 towns and cities
accounts for 45 percent of the total costs of the dam. However, a
large portion of the funds allocated for migrants has been stolen by
corrupt officials. The new communities established with relocated
factories, farms and populations have turned out to be economic
basket cases. In 2004, social tensions in Wangzhou exploded, when
80,000 workers and unemployed stormed government buildings and
clashed with police.
While Chinese authorities are now considering silting, deforestation
and the threats to aquatic life caused by the Three Gorges Dam, no
serious proposals have been made to address the social crisis
confronting those forced to leave their communities.
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