China dam to force 4m to relocate

marksimonbrown mark at
Fri Oct 12 14:37:26 BST 2007

China dam to force 4m to relocate

by Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Friday October 12, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

China plans to move at least 4 million people from their homes to 
ensure the "environmental safety" of the Three Gorges Dam, state 
media reported.

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 
website reported.

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 megawatts—far 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 it—the 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 
infrastructure projects.

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 
Yangtze valley.

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 deserts—from 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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