Three Gorges Probe

Background report: Resettlement problems of the Three Gorges dam (part III)

by Wu Ming

September 28, 1998

Earlier this year, sociologist Wu Ming travelled to the counties around the Three Gorges Dam. Here is the third excerpt from his study, published by the International Rivers Network in March, 1998.

IV. Promise of Non-Agricultural Jobs Proves Illusory

The Three Gorges Dam will inundate 430,000 to 450,000 mu of farmland. For the most part, this is not the rich, irrigated rice-growing terraces popularly associated with the Yangtze valley; it consists largely of steep hillsides dependent on rainwater for irrigation. Most of this land is of only marginal value for agriculture. But once farmers are moved to even higher ground, which is the major form of rural resettlement planned for the Three Gorges Dam project, they will face an even more difficult ecosystem. About 30 percent of the land at the resettlement sites is at an incline of at least 25 degrees, making farming extremely difficult. Moreover, serious soil erosion, which affects as much as 80 percent of the land in the reservoir area, is likely to mean that the reclaimed land will quickly become uncultivable, and people will have to move a second time.

Officials in charge of the project are aware that the Three Gorges area cannot absorb a large number of uprooted farmers unless they can be moved out of agriculture into industrial jobs. This is why one of the goals of the government’s “developmental resettlement” policy has been to provide jobs for rural resettles who will not be able to farm by setting up new industrial enterprises as well as absorbing some relocates into the labour force of existing factories. But over the past few years, the prospect of finding industrial jobs has dimmed for many rural resettles as local industries have hired all the people they need. Today, hopes of new work in the industrial sector have virtually vanished. Nationwide, unemployment rates increased dramatically in 1997.

In the Three Gorges area, hundreds of thousands of urban residents formerly working for state-run or collectively owned factories and enterprises are being laid off. In the areas under the jurisdiction of Chongqing municipality, two million people who once worked for state enterprises are now unemployed, according to conversations with local officials.

In Yunyang County, 20 percent of the industrial workers (about 8,000 people) were laid off in 1997 alone. Many who were kept on by the factories in Yunyang are receiving only a “token salary,” about 150 to 200 yuan a month. As a result, nearly one fifth of the 368 Yunyang farmers who became industrial workers between 1992 and 1997 have now returned to the countryside to try to eke out a living.

Unemployment rates in the counties and cities along the Three Gorges area, especially the Sichuan section of the reservoir area, are likely to increase in the next few years. Fengjie County is a case in point. A Fengjie official said candidly that the vow of the Three Gorges Dam planners to make some of the rural resettles into urban residents and industrial workers is now a meaningless slogan. “What concerns us most at present is how to guarantee factory workers a minimum salary and how to provide emergency aid to urban residents who cannot make ends meet. There is no way to find industrial jobs for rural resettles. If factory workers and urban residents can maintain their current status instead of becoming farmers in order to make a living, we will consider that a fairly good outcome.” This official’s pessimism was based in part on a 1997 survey, which found that only four out of Fengjie’s 80 state, and collectively owned factories were profitable. The others were in debt, some on the verge of bankruptcy.

(To be continued)

Three Gorges Probe welcomes submissions. However, it is not a forum for political debate. Rather, Three Gorges Probe is dedicated to covering the scientific, technical, economic, social, and environmental ramifications of completing the Three Gorges Project, as well as the alternatives to the dam.

Publisher: Patricia Adams Executive Editor: Mu Lan ISSN 1481-0913

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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