(January 17, 2002) A new report raises fresh concerns about the potential health risks of the massive Three Gorges Dam. Critics of the project fear clean-up funds allocated by the Chinese government will not be enough. Canadian environmental group Probe International says that in 2000, Chinese academics pleaded for $37 billion for environmental projects relating to the dam’s construction.
by Emma Young, New Scientist
The Yangtze River is becoming increasingly polluted, according to an official Chinese government report. The findings raise fresh concerns about the potential health risks of the controversial Three Gorges Dam, which is set to start holding back water in 2003.
Sewage and industrial waste dumping totalled 23.4 billion tonnes in 2001, up 11 per cent on the figure for 2000, says Chinese news agency Xinhua. The report by the Yangtze River Water Resources Authority also concludes that stretches of the 6212 kilometre-long river are too polluted for human use.
The 181-metre high Three Gorges Dam—the world’s largest hydropower project—will create a 643-mile long reservoir of Yangzte water, which some critics claim will be the world’s largest cesspool.
In May 1998, public health researchers writing in the medical journal The Lancet warned that the Three Gorges Dam “could become the Chernobyl of hydropower”.
“That’s because the reservoir would be carrying so many diseases and vectors for epidemics of malaria, schistosomiasis, encephalitis—which are often pollution-related,” says Doris Shen of the California-based International Rivers Network.
The Chinese government announced in December 2001 that it would spend 40 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) by 2010 on projects to clean up the Three Gorges and upstream stretches of the river. The State Environmental Protection Administration said the money would be spent on building 260 sewage treatment plants and 230 waste treatment facilities.
The new report on the scale of Yangtze pollution is a further welcome step, says Shen. “Their conceding to this level of pollution and admitting it is a human health concern might increase the budget for remediation and mitigation of the impacts,” she says.
But the report also concluded that the river’s water quality will continue to deteriorate. This will threaten the health of rare species such as the Yangtze River dolphin, as well as millions of people living in the river basin, say campaigners.
And Shen and other critics of the Three Gorges Dam are concerned that the clean-up funds announced by the Chinese government will be far from enough. Canadian environmental group Probe International says that in 2000, Chinese academics pleaded for $37 billion for environmental projects relating to the dam’s construction.
The original version of this article appears here.