Three Gorges Forces Further Displacement

Twenty years have passed since the Chinese government authorized the massive Three Gorges Dam project. Since then, there has been ongoing concern about the social and environmental ramifications of the damming. The Financial Post reports:

Twenty years ago this month, the Chinese government, amid great controversy but with the blessing of a Canadian government report, authorized construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

The critics said the dam would be an environmental and economic nightmare that would flood millions of people off their land, induce landslides and earthquakes, cripple navigation and produce unaffordable electricity.

Twenty years later, the critics have been proven right on all counts. The arguments in favour of the dam were always thin gruel, without scientific depth or credibility, repeated ad nauseam in the form of propaganda, while the arguments against the dam were extensive and detailed and, as we now know, accurate.

About one year ago, Beijing officially acknowledged the negative social and environmental impact of the project. So far, over a million people have been forced to relocate as the waters of the Yangtze consumed their homes and farmland, and more may soon be forced to move due to related geological changes. The Washington Post reports:

Another 100,000 people may have to move away from China’s Three Gorges Dam due to the risk of disastrous landslides and bank collapses around the reservoir of the world’s biggest hydroelectric facility, state media said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Land Resources says the number of landslides and other disasters has increased 70 percent since the water level in the $23 billion showcase project rose to its maximum level in 2010.

Some 1.4 million people already have been resettled due to the huge project on the Yangtze River. Authorities may move another 100,000 people in the next three to five years to minimize the risk of casualties from such threats, Liu Yuan, a ministry official, told China National Radio in a report posted on a government website and carried by state newspapers.

The BBC has more on how the the immense project has impacted the Yangtze watershed and its local population:

Mr Liu said the authorities would try to stabilise 355 locations around the dam where rockfalls and landslides had already happened.

Another 5,386 hazardous sites were being monitored.

The water in the huge reservoir rises and falls depending on the season, making the banks unstable, the BBC’s Michael Bristow in Beijing reports.

The banks have already collapsed in hundreds of places, our correspondent says.

[...]Construction started in 1994 and was completed in 2006, with the reservoir reaching its full height two years ago after submerging 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages.

While language is speculative concerning the estimated 100,000 person relocation over the next 3-5 years, for 20,000 of those people, the move is imminent. From China Daily:

About 20,000 people from a county in Central China’s Hubei province will be relocated in 2012 due to the risk of disastrous landslides around the Three Gorges Dam, local authorities said Wednesday.

The 20,000 people account for one-fifth of the population of Dongba county, located in the Enshi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture. The relocation process is under way, said Zhao Wenxing from the county’s relocation headquarters.

Schools and hospitals that are in harm’s way will be among the first buildings to be evacuated, Zhao said.

A total of 550 million yuan ($87.3 million) will be used to fund the relocation project, Zhao said.

The county is prone to landslides and cave-ins, prompting local authorities to launch the relocation project to avoid casualties, Zhao said.

Environmental advocacy group Probe International has posted a translation of the China National Radio report cited in the BBC and Washington Post pieces.

April 18, 2012 11:29 AM
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