Three Gorges Dam nears completion Seth Rosenblatt © 2006
China’s three gorges Dam
A mo Del of t he PAst
he Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the world’s largest and most controversial hydropower project. The 660 kilometer-long reservoir displaced 1.3 million people and is wreaking havoc on the environment. The reservoir reached its final height in 2009, but many of its impacts are only now becoming apparent. China will deal with the project’s legacy for generations to come. Project supporters celebrate the Three Gorges Dam as a symbol of China’s economic and technological progress. They point out that the power plant substitutes the burning of more than 30 million tons of coal every year, and has greatly improved navigation on the Yangtze River. They also claim that the project has made devastating floods in the Yangtze Valley a thing of the past, and has improved the quality of life of the resettled population. According to former President Jiang Zemin, the dam “embodies the great industrious spirit of the Chinese nation.” The Three Gorges Dam was first championed by chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s, and a feasibility study was commissioned in 1986. Leading scientists warned about the project’s environmental risks, but were silenced after the massacre on Tiananmen Square in 1989. In 1992, the National People’s Congress – China’s toothless parliament – approved project construction with a record number of abstentions. Dam construction began in 1994 and was completed twelve years later. The power plant, with a capacity of 18,200 MW, became fully operational ahead of schedule in October 2008. The water level in the Three Gorges reservoir reached its final height one year later. Six additional generators are currently being installed; the expansion of the project is expected to be completed in 2012. Resettlement without Rights
The Three Gorges Dam, situated in the densely populated Yangtze Valley, is the world’s largest resettlement project. According to official figures, the dam has submerged 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages. When the project was launched, the authorities promised to provide replacement land to farmers and new jobs to the urban population. Yet arable land is scarce in China, and the government had to stop resettling farmers on steep hills to check erosion. And once resettlement began, many state-owned enterprises were closing down rather than creating new jobs.
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On a visit to the reservoir and landslides. According to area in summer 2009, affected the business magazine Caijing, people routinely complained more than 150 dangerous geothat the compensation they logical events were recorded received for their old houses within five months after the was not sufficient to pay for reservoir was first impounded. their new homes. Some citErosion affects more than half ies such as New Fengdu have of the reservoir area, and 178 overcome the shock of resettlekilometers of riverbanks are at ment and restarted their econrisk of collapse. An additional omy. Others look decrepit a 530,000 people will have to be few years after they were built. relocated by 2020 in order to In Yunyang, only 45 of the relieve pressure on the fragile city’s 181 factories were moved The town of Yunyang, already desperate and poor (Nick Austin) reservoir slopes. to higher ground, and many The Yangtze carries more than of them have closed in the meantime. An estimated 20,000 500 million tons of silt into the reservoir each year. Some is people have lost their jobs. Many people had to spend their flushed through the sluice-gates at the bottom of the dam, savings to pay for their new homes and could not invest in a but most of the sediment is deposited in the reservoir. This new future. silt is now being withheld from downstream areas. After Following a widespread practice,...
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