Dams and Landslides

China warns of Three Gorges catastrophe while local officials plan second mass resettlement, tourism development

Grainne Ryder
Three Gorges Probe
October 2, 2007

One week before Chinese officials warned of environmental ‘catastrophe’ from the Three Gorges dam, municipal officials announced plans to “safeguard” the environment and develop tourism in the Three Gorges reservoir area by moving another million people.

Xinhua news agency generated international headlines this week with its story “China warns of ‘catastrophe’ from gigantic dam.”

The story quotes government officials attending a two-day forum in Wuhan who warn that the Three Gorges dam could lead to “catastrophe” if no preventive measures are taken.

Notably, Wang Xiaofeng also commented on a Wall Street Journal article that reported “rising concerns about landslides, pollution and flooding in the [reservoir] area” an article for which Three Gorges Probe had briefed the WSJ correspondent Shai Oster.

“The problems mentioned in the Wall Street Journal should merit adequate attention from all of us,” said Wang. “We have to make concerted efforts to attain the dual goals of constructing a first-rate hydraulic project and making it into a top-level showcase for the
environment. We will work harder to turn the Three Gorges Reservoir Area into an environmentally-friendly society.”

Mass Relocation Planned for Three Gorges Area

That “environmentally-friendly society” Wang refers to could include forcibly resettling another million people in the Chongqing area, according to a separate story that appeared in the Chinese media one week before the Wuhan meeting.

Officials in Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis at the upper end of the Three Gorges reservoir, said mass relocation would make it possible “to ecologically safeguard the dam area and create an important ecological barrier inside the Yangtze River Basin.”

Chongqing Reform and Development Commission plans to move 1.17 million people, which would bring the total number of people displaced by the Three Gorges project to 2.3 million. If the plan goes ahead, people living in the northeast region of Chongqing (which includes 11 districts and counties) will be moved to within one hour’s drive of the city proper.

Officials quoted offer a number of justifications for the resettlement. Miu Wei of the Chongqing Development and Reform Commission, said the second relocation will integrate the “rural labor force into the urbanization and industrialization process.” Zhang Xueliang, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s Chongqing municipal committee, said migrants in the first relocation ten years ago were resettled to higher ground, “inadvertently damaging the nearby ecosystem and causing serious soil erosion.” Moving these people into the city would restore “charm” to the area and “could attract millions of tourists there and create a much-needed cash cow for the poverty-stricken residents.” [Full story][PDF]

China to develop tourism in Three Gorges dam region

China’s National Development and Reform Commission has approved a plan to invest US$3.5 billion in Three Gorges tourism development, according to People’s Daily Online on September 17. The funds are expected to come from government and outside investors and will be used to upgrade tourist ferries, as well as build roads, docks, hotels, historic sites, and cultural attractions. Li Chunming, vice governor of central China’s Hubei provice said tourism development “would not threaten the already fragile ecological environment” and could provide relocated people with “stable incomes.” [Full story][PDF]

The Independent UK reported that Probe International fellow Dai Qing received the official admission that the Three Gorges dam is a potential environmental disaster with bitter irony. [Full story][PDF]

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