Dams and Landslides

Massive resettlement planned for Three Gorges region…again

Grainne Ryder and Mu Lan
November 12, 2007

Three Gorges Probe decodes China’s latest urban and rural development plans for the Three Gorges reservoir region.

Rural unemployment and environmental problems aggravated by China’s Three Gorges dam have prompted authorities to announce a second massive resettlement scheme affecting millions of people along the dam’s 600-kilometre long reservoir. Already, 1.13 million people have been resettled to make way for the Three Gorges dam, about half of them farmers.

Now the Chongqing government plans to move another 2.3 million rural people living along the Three Gorges reservoir into nearby cities.

The plan, approved by Chongqing last August, aims to encourage rural people to move to the cities where they have better chances of finding employment. Officials claim this will relieve environmental pressure in the Three Gorges reservoir region, which is plagued by frequent landslides, severe soil erosion, and water pollution – exactly as critics have warned since the 1980s.

Unlike Three Gorges resettlement, where people were forced to move, the slogan this time is: “guided by government, selected by the market, and decided by the people to move voluntarily.”

“The fundamental objective is to change farmers to urban citizens and get them settled in the cities permanently by encouraging them to give up the farmland in the reservoir areas,” Miao Wei, vice director of the Chongqing Development and Reform Commission, said in a September 11 interview with the Beijing-based news magazine, 21st Century Economic Herald.

Chongqing, a large port city at the western end of the Three Gorges reservoir, had its jurisdiction extended in 1997 to encompass almost the entire Three Gorges reservoir region, an area twice the size of Holland (82,000 square kilometres). Chongqing municipality, as it is now known, has a population of 28 million, roughly half of whom live in rural areas.

Planned reductions in rural population within Chongqing municipality are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Planned reductions in rural population within Chongqing municipality

County within Chongqing municipality Population Estimate 2007 Expected Population 2020 Planned Reduction
Liangping 713,500 650,000 63,500
Chengkou 192,100 100,000 92,100
Fengdu 645,000 500,000 145,000
Dianjiang 727,200 670,000 57,200
Zhongxian 746,700 600,000 146,700
Fhengjie 860,300 500,000 360,300
Kaixian 1,159,900 850,000 309,900
Yunyang 1,017,100 800,000 217,100
Wushan 501,000 250,000 251,000
Wuxi 446,000 250,000 196,000
Total 7,008,800 5,170,000 1,838,800

Total 7,008,800 5,170,000 1,838,800
Source: Chongqing government web site, August 2007.
(Editor’s Note: While the plan states that 2.3 million people will be resettled by 2020, the figures presented by county add up to just 1.838 million.)

Six of the 10 counties listed are considered “at-risk” areas, where landslides are already a problem – that is, Fengjie, Wushan, Fengdu, and Zhongzian along the reservoir shoreline, and Yunyang and Wuxi along two flooded tributaries.

It’s not clear how many people displaced by the Three Gorges dam over the last
decade will be affected by Chongqing’s new plan.

Chen Liande, former vice director of Chongqing Resettlement Bureau, told 21st Century Economic Herald last July that about half the people displaced by the Three Gorges dam were rural residents. Of these, 160,000 were moved to other provinces and municipalities while 300,000 were moved to higher ground near the reservoir. An estimated 90,000 people are already commuting from rural areas within the reservoir region to nearby cities to find employment.

Chongqing’s Urban and Rural Development Plan 2007 to 2020

Big as Chongqing’s plan for depopulating the Three Gorges countryside is, the municipality has an even more ambitious urbanization plan that was approved by the State Council on September 20.

Known as Chongqing’s 2007 to 2020 Urban and Rural Development Plan, more than four million people – downtown and rural residents – will be encouraged to move to the city’s urban outskirts and two other urban areas, Wanzhou and Qiangjiang.

The plan has two main objectives, according to an outline on the Chongqing government web site. First, urban expansion to provide jobs for people migrating from rural areas where unemployment is high. And second, reducing population pressure in the Three Gorges reservoir area to prevent further environmental degradation and geological disasters.

Other objectives are listed on the web site as follows:
-to build an environment-friendly resource-saving city
-to improve the urban and rural environment
-to protect historic and cultural heritage sites
-to safeguard the ecology of Three Gorges, the Yangtze river, and its tributary, Jialing. (Chongqing city is at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing)

The slogan for this development plan is “one circle, two wings” which refers to an “economic circle” within one hour’s drive from downtown Chongqing and two urban centres in the northeast and southeast, where investment in transportation infrastructure, communications, industry, and tourism will be encouraged.

Wanzhou district is the first wing, which is the largest urban area in the Three Gorges reservoir region after Chongqing. The second wing is Qiangjiang district, which is about two or three hours drive south of the Three Gorges reservoir, within the Wujiang river basin and Wuling mountain area. Qiangjiang is populated mostly by Tujia and Miao minorities.

Anyone staying in the countryside will be encouraged to participate in China’s “grain for green” program, which is intended to stem further environmental degradation.

Under this program, people will receive a subsidy from the government to plant trees and grasses on steep slopes instead of corn and wheat, which tend to cause soil erosion and require large amounts of polluting fertilizer to grow. The central government reports that 80,000 households in the Three Gorges area are already involved in the program, with 200,000 mu (1 mu = 1/15 ha) of land replanted in 2005, and another 2 million mu slated for replanting in the next 10 years.

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