Campaign Letters

June 2002 Campaign Letter

Patricia Adams
June 1, 2002

Cracks in the dam, first discovered in 1999, have multiplied and grown. Some now extend from the top to the bottom, putting millions at risk.


In less than 400 days, the waters will start rising behind China’s Three Gorges dam, the largest dam ever to be built. Dozens of towns and thousands of cultural treasures will be lost to a watery grave. Millions of Chinese are dreading that day, amid growing concern that the massive dam itself could fail, unleashing a tidal wave that could kill millions downstream.

Cracks in the dam, first discovered in 1999, have multiplied and grown. Some now extend from the top to the bottom of the huge concrete structure. Some are as wide as an adult hand, some run as deep as two metres into the dam. Chinese officials admit there have been concrete pouring problems, prompting the Beijing media to ask: “Can the dam still hold water?”

Engineers fear other forms of failure too. China’s top engineers, who helped design the Three Gorges project, now worry about the new settlements for people displaced by the dam. These new towns have been constructed on mountainous slopes and in geologically unstable areas that could trigger disasters and threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands. The engineers identified 1,320 dangerous sites along the reservoir where landslides could occur and the riverbank could collapse. Already, one landslide of 20 million cubic metres of rock and earth has partially slid down a mountainside, threatening a resettlement town of 10,000 people.

Chinese officials also fear a public health disaster around the Three Gorges reservoir. Some 24 billion tonnes of untreated human and industrial waste are dumped into the Yangtze River every year. As well, thousands of sites contaminated with industrial, radioactive, and biohazardous materials are about to be submerged by the reservoir. Municipal officials, who will have this toxic cocktail as their neighbour, are scrambling to find alternative sources of water.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced people, and their host populations, now face deprivation and chaos – they’re forced to manage with less land, fewer jobs, inadequate housing and basic services such as water, hospitals, and schools. One respected Chinese social scientist has warned that Three Gorges forced migration has sown the seeds of social instability that will last for decades. To make matters worse, corrupt resettlement officials have pocketed funds allocated to these migrants, which were intended to help them rebuild their homes and lives. Four representatives of one community, who appealed to Communist Party officials to redress these wrongs, were convicted of “disturbing public order” and thrown in jail.

For 15 years now, Probe International and our brave colleagues and dedicated experts in China have predicted that the costs of the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River would be huge and unpredictable, and that the dam’s benefits would be small and uncertain. Now, 10 years after this project was approved, these predictions are tragically coming true.

The Three Gorges dam was supposed to stop deadly floods in the Yangtze valley. Yet secret correspondence among top Chinese officials responsible for building the dam reveal that “the flood control capacity of the Three Gorges project is smaller than declared by us.” But, “never, ever let the public know this,” warn the letters, which have been leaked to Probe International.

Dam officials also worry that the dam will cripple shipping along the Yangtze, not facilitate it. And that it will fail to be an energy boon. Our analysis, together with leading Chinese energy sector analysts, reveals that Three Gorges power will be two to three times more expensive than power from high-efficiency gas turbines and cogeneration. Three Gorges power officials, who fear they won’t find customers for their expensive power, are banking on state decrees to force it on unwilling customers.

What can you do at this late date?

Tell the Canadian government that you don’t want to support this dam with your tax dollars. To finish the project, cash-strapped Chinese dam officials continue to ask the Canadian government for financing and the Canadian government continues to give it to them. The Canadian government paid for a dam feasibility study that was flawed, then financed a cement factory for Three Gorges, a computer system to manage construction of the dam, turbines and generators and, recently, a bridge across the Yangtze needed for dam construction. But, when it comes to defending the fundamental rights of Chinese citizens who are threatened by this dam, the Canadian government remains mute.

Please let your elected representative know that draping the Canadian flag over the Three Gorges dam violates the values that Canadians hold dear.

And, please, support us with a generous donation to help us in our work to expose the truth about the dam. We must do all we can to stop further tragedies caused by the Three Gorges dam, and to protect future generations from a repetition of this profoundly damaging project.

Yours sincerely,

Patricia Adams
Executive Director

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