Three Gorges Dam Conflict: Views and Analysis
Sarah F. Watson
Colorado State University
The Three Gorges Dam currently being built on the Yangtze River in China is forcing the resettlement of over a million people. Shipping interests, city dwellers, and the Chinese government all support the dam's construction, while archeologists, human rights organizations, and those forced to resettle do not. This paper explores and organizes the stakeholders' views through conflict tree and conflict mapping analysis methods. The AmericaSpeaks methodology is suggested as a transformation method to ease the tension between the stakeholders. Introduction and Background
As tall as a 60 story building, storing over 11 trillion gallons of water, stopping 55 million tons of coal being burned a year, producing enough energy to equal 18 nuclear power plants and forcing the resettlement of over 1.3 million people what single building project is doing all this (Chetham, 2002; Kennedy, 2001)? The Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze River in China is one of the most controversial building projects ever. The conflict between groups on opposing sides of the Three Gorges Dam truly began in the early 1930s (Gupta & Asher, 2000). However, the first suggestion for a dam in the Three Gorges area came from Sun Yet Sen in 1919 (Economy, 2004). The ground breaking ceremony was held in December of 1994 with proposed completion date in 2009 (Chetham, 2002).
The conflict between the proponents and the opponents of the dam are based around the key issue of the reservoir that the dam will create. The water will rise an average of 290 meters within the gorges themselves (Chetham, 2002). The reservoir created by the dam will be 360 miles long and an anticipated 175 miles deep (Economy, 2004). The reservoir will cause the flooding of over 12,000 acres of tangerine orchards, 150 towns, 800 historical sites, and the beautiful gorges in the area (Gupta & Asher, 2000; Chetham, 2002; Gamer, 1999). While the Three Gorges Dam will eventually be able to provide 10 percent of the energy China needs without burning coal, is this worth the forced resettlement of over a million people (Economy, 2004)?
Is there a way to transform this conflict and reduce the tension between the opposing sides? The AmericaSpeaks conflict resolution methodology, also known as a 21st Century Town Meeting combines a multitude small group discussions in a larger context that allows thousands of people to voice their opinions simultaneously. I believe this method is the best way to transform a conflict that has such a wide array of stakeholders. Additionally, this method allows the comments to be kept anonymous which would be necessary in a location where the government is known for suppressing dissenting views, like China.
Figure 1: Map of Three Gorges area (McGill University, 2001)
The farmers who are being forced to move out of the flooding areas generally do not support the construction of the dam. Over 23,000 hectares of agricultural land will be flooded by the reservoir formed by the Three Gorges Dam (Veeck, Ponnell, Smith & Huang, 2007). Though most farmers are being given other land, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated that five times as much land as farmers are being given to equal the productivity of the land being flooded (Chetham, 2002). However the farmers are not being given more land than they originally had. Additionally, many farmers are being asked to stop farming, unless they are moving out of the valley. The land that some of the farmers are being given is on the upper slopes of the valley and the government has concerns about increase erosion and sedimentation.
One of the most disturbing stories around the resettlement problems is the story of three farmers who tried to report corruption. These men were arrested...