Three Gorges Probe

Chinese dam collapses killing close to three hundred

Patricia Adams

September 21, 1993

On the night of August 27, 1993, a dam burst high in a remote province of China, sending torrents of water crashing down on nearby villages. Close to 300 people were killed and thousands were made homeless.



The precise cause of the collapse is still unknown but the official Chinese press has reported a "better than average chance" that an 1990 earthquake weakened the dam, leading to its collapse under this year’s flood waters. The Gouhou dam, as it is known, lies close to seismic fault lines. So does the Three Gorges dam.


But a Gouhou-like collapse of the Three Gorges dam, located on the densely populated Yangtze River, would rank as one of history’s worst man-made disasters, flooding major downstream cities like Wuhan and killing tens of thousands if not millions.


This makes our work to stop the Three Gorges dam even more urgent. Though prelimnary construction has begun, the Chinese government is desperately short of money to complete the dam. For this reason, our focus has been on the dam’s financiers — the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the export credit agencies such as Canada’s Export Development Corporation, and the private lenders — to warn them of the potential for a catastrophe of untold proportions.

To ensure that the world knows the truth about its real costs and risks, we have just published an expanded edition of Damming the Three Gorges, an expose of the flawed analysis found in the Candian government’s feasibility study of the dam (which the Chinese government now uses to raise international financing).


Equally important, we are translating the monumental Chinese book, Yangtze! Yangtze!, into English. First published in 1989 by some of China’s most eminent journalists and scientists, this damming critique led the National People’s Congress to postpone the Three Gorges dam for five years. But that postponement was short-lived. Two months later, the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, the book’s chief editor was arrested and the book banned on the ground that it "abetted the turmoil." With its critics silenced, the Three Gorges project was resumed. To this day, criticism of the dam remains strictly forbidden.


This dam, which will flood 1.3 million people from their homes, cities, and farms, demonstrates that for dam builders and financiers there is no limit — no population is too large to displace, no area too vast to be flooded. Smaller projects all over the world threaten similarly productive communities.


That is why Probe International also fights for the rights of the several thousand Thai citizens slated to lose their homes and fish stocks — their source of livelihood — because the World Bank is financing the Pak Mun dam. That is why we work with citizens in Bangladesh to stop the ill-conceived Flood Action Plan from depriving farmers of their traditional rights to water and silt, and with Indian citizens to ensure that the World Bank enforces the meager compensation promised in its loan to the Narmada dam.

Unfortunately, we know that the ill-conceived projects we fight, sometimes successfully, are only a small sample of the destructive projects that get the go-ahead from institutions like the World Bank, CIDA, and the Export Development Corporation. That is why we continue to monitor their activities, to expose the difference between their rhetoric and their activities, and to reform or (when reform is impossible) to dismantle the institutions that keep adding to this wanton destruction.


We have our supporters to thank for the progress made to date: Probe International letter writers have become renowned for forcing both politicians and institutions to be accountable; the committed financial support of our thousands of donors have given Probe International the independence to name names without fear or favour.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s