Dai Qing and Three Gorges

Villages of the dammed

(February 21, 2006) Warnings ignored as massive Three Gorges project uproots Chinese . . . with Canadian help.

SHIBAOZHAI, China — The Buddhist legacy of the 200-year-old Precious Stone Fortress, overlooking the Yangtze River, has always stirred vivid history lessons from local guides. But it is the future, more than the past, that preoccupies visitors today. By year’s end, the surrounding waters will begin their inexorable climb toward the once-impregnable entrance of this 11-storey wooden pagoda that now sits 175 metres above sea level. That’s when the first of 26 massive turbines — many of them Canadian-made — are scheduled to start generating power downriver at the Three Gorges dam, 1,000 kilometres west of Shanghai. The world’s biggest and possibly most controversial man-made structure, the dam is also billed as a life-saving flood-control system to tame the river’s raging waters. Still, it’s a hard sell. To safeguard future generations of villagers, the dam will destroy the villages of their ancestors. It will force more than 1.3 million people from their homes and threaten thousands of antiquities before it is finally completed in 2009. “They have no way to live,” says Dai Qing, a prominent writer who has been jailed for her criticisms of the dam. “All the people want to go back … I don’t know what will happen.” The fallout has provoked torrents of criticism from displaced peasants, international human-rights groups, Chinese dissidents and local petitioners who say the flood-control benefits are exaggerated and promised compensation has evaporated. Environmental groups and engineering experts also have sounded alarm bells, warning of a potential ecological disaster from lack of pollution controls and unsolved silting problems. Yet all along, Canada has continued to support the project. Ottawa first bestowed its blessings in the late 1980s, when Canadian experts — backed by federal funding — wrote a feasibility study favouring the dam and resettlement.  The study paved the way for lucrative export contracts in subsequent years and top Chinese engineers remain grateful to Canada for lending legitimacy to a plan that lacked support at home.

Toronto Star, February 21, 2006

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