Three Gorges Probe

To build and be damned

The Guardian (U.K.)
May 21, 2006

Article refers to Three Gorges petition endorsed by 53 Chinese experts warning that the project is vulnerable to serious silting upstream of the dam.

John Gittings reports from China on the troubled state of affairs at the Three Gorges dam

The most magic moment of a journey through China’s Three Gorges has already been irretrievably lost – the dawn chorus of birds as the traveller enters upstream. There are roads carved from the rockface of the first gorge, piles of spoil from construction higher up, and a distant noise of round-the-clock working at the great dam site. And, when the water level is raised as much as 70 metres (230 ft), the dense shrubbery where the birds find refuge will be submerged. Although the project is irreversible, and has been so ever since opposition to it was suppressed more than 10 years ago, the Chinese government is allowing a more critical attitude to filter through – within limits. It is no longer a great and glorious enterprise which cannot possibly be flawed in any respect. This month, the Chinese media published details of a serious accident at the construction site that killed or injured 29 workers. Problems and delays over the relocation of hundreds of thousands of villagers whose homes will be flooded have been admitted. And there has been at least a partial admission of graft involving some of the huge sums earmarked for the project. "No big embezzlement [of] construction funds has been discovered so far," the People’s Daily quotes Lu Youmei, president of the China Three Gorges Project Corporation. It is hardly a ringing denial and Mr Lu’s deputy used exactly the same careful phrase. "Overall, no big embezzlement has been found." The newspaper report goes on to admit that the situation has been quite different with the funds earmarked for the resettlement programme. "[Mr Lu’s] announcement was made," it says, "at a time when a string of grafters have been sentenced to death, imprisoned or punished for stealing funds [intended] for residents of the reservoir area."

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