Three Gorges Probe

China’s environmental disaster

David Rennie
The Ottawa Citizen
May 25, 2006

BEIJING — The giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River risks choking China’s largest river port with silt and sewage and displacing 500,000 people unnecessarily, engineers and academics are warning the country’s political leaders.

A group of 53 experts, including former Three Gorges engineers, dam experts, parliamentarians and cultural officials, have signed a petition released by Probe International, a Toronto-based environmental group campaigning against the project.

Probe’s Internet publication, the Three Gorges Probe, offers detailed evidence that officials are planning to fill the dam’s 560-kilometre reservoir to its maximum depth up to a decade early, apparently to maximize revenue from electricity generation.

Canada’s Export Development Corporation apparently lent $162.5 million U.S. to Chinese state agencies, which then selected Canadian General Electric and Canadian engineering firm Monenco-Agra to provide computers and power generation equipment for the controversial project. The engineering firm SNC-Lavalin has also been involved in the project.

The dam is due to be ready in 2009, despite warnings from Chinese and international engineers that it will be an economic, environmental and archeological disaster.

At least 1.13 million people must be moved, although only 220,000 had been resettled by the end of last year.

The original plan called for the water level to be raised slowly, to monitor the buildup of silt, which threatens Chongqing port, a municipality of 30 million people upstream from the dam.

The experts who signed the petition dismissed the official solution, building dams to catch the silt, and in a detailed preamble to their petition, called for the Three Gorges to be kept to a lower water level for at least 10 years. Reportedly, this would cut the number of farmers to be moved by 500,000 and allow Chongqing to build sewage plants.

“At the moment, the people of Chongqing know that when they close the dam they will be living right next to the world’s biggest open sewer,” said one Western expert. Should the water level rise still higher, Chongqing’s sewers would back up, threatening a public health catastrophe.

Since construction work began on the dam, the budget has more than doubled, amid reports of blatant corruption. Even according to sanitized official accounts, at least one official has been executed, and hundreds investigated. In 1998 alone, more than $83 million in funds earmarked for resettling residents was stolen. One senior official is reportedly on the run, after selling lucrative official posts and embezzling funds worth $180 million.

Officials in charge of relocation efforts now admit that many peasants facing relocation will see an end to their lives as farmers, and exile to far corners of the country. However, many believe too much Communist Party pride is at stake for the project to be scrapped.


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