Three Gorges Probe

Several important issues in Three Gorges resettlement

Chen Guojie and Liu Shaoquan – Science News (Kexue xinwen)
August 7, 2003

“We should take migrants’ rights and interests seriously, and never view their reasonable demands as constituting criminal activities,” two senior researchers write in a prestigious Chinese journal.

Chen Guojie and Liu Shaoquan are senior researchers at the Chengdu Institute for Mountain Hazards and Environment. This article was published in Science News (Kexue xinwen), journal of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Issue 2, 2003.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Chengdu Institute for Mountain Hazards and Environment has focused its research since the 1980s on the environmental and ecological impacts of building the Three Gorges dam. With the establishment of the Wanxian Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Station in 1994, the institute has undertaken surveys and studies looking not only at changes in the reservoir ecosystems but also at the Three Gorges migrants’ lives after resettlement.

In a series of research programs in the past five years, we have tracked about 100 households (migrants and existing residents) in the town of Wuqiao, where the environmental monitoring station is located. Our studies have led us to conclude that it will be impossible to create environmentally friendly conditions in the reservoir area, let alone ensure social stability and sustainable development, if we cannot successfully resettle the affected people.

Based on our studies in the towns of Wuqiao (Wanxian district) and Qukou (Kaixian county), we have discovered some problems both with local and distant resettlement, which require careful attention.

1. In some areas, the number of people displaced by the dam is greater than government estimates suggest. This problem has occurred because the government placed more emphasis on “natural growth” [through births] of the migrant population than on “mechanical growth” [through other means, such as marriage or job transfers]. In Kaixian county, for example, because of a relatively developed economy, most of the population increase has been the result of mechanical growth, especially through marriage.

In Qukou, the government’s baseline survey in 1992 found an affected population of 6,000, and estimated that 7,000 would need to be relocated by 2009. But by 2001, the actual number had gone up to 9,000 people. Langping village in Qukou provides an example of the problem: According to the government resettlement plan, 490 people were to be relocated by 2009. But by September 2001, about 490 people had already been moved to distant parts of the county and as many as 600 people were left behind and were simply excluded.

Because of the responsibility system in the State Council’s resettlement budget, the central government will provide no funds to resettle this “excess” population, which puts extreme pressure on local governments who must now scramble to find ways to finance these unanticipated resettlement tasks.

2. People who have lost their farmland, but not their houses, to the reservoir face major problems. Current resettlement policy focuses on those who have lost both their homes and their land to the reservoir, while no concern is shown for those whose houses are located above the submersion line but whose farmland is flooded.

Yan Congming, a farmer in Qukou’s Kaiyun village, is one such case. A survey we conducted in 2000 showed that Mr. Yan’s family of six had 0.12 hectares of rice paddy and 0.24 hectares of dry land. All the rice paddy was flooded after the filling of the reservoir, along with 0.13 ha of dry land on which the family had grown cash crops such as fruits and Chinese medicine. With only 0.11 ha of steep slope left, the family now has difficulty making ends meet. In light of this case, we have suggested that the government also help “half-affected” families recover their previous standard of living. Doing so will also help protect the reservoir environment.

3. Migrants who have been moved to distant locations face a number of temporary difficulties. They may find it difficult to build new housing at the resettlement sites because they received inadequate compensation for their old houses.

A number of distant-migrant households have run into financial difficulty because they have spent so much money building their new houses that they have nothing left with which to invest in new businesses or develop other economic activities. These migrants used up their savings as well as all the compensation they received, such as moving subsidies and the money earmarked for building new houses and developing new business activities.

A survey focusing on distant resettlement in Qingshen county, Sichuan province, found that by the time they had to build new houses for themselves, 30 per cent of migrants had used up all their money, including all their savings, while 20 per cent had incurred debts of thousands of yuan.

Zhang Guangbin, a native of Puxi village in Qukou town, had run up a debt of 8,000 yuan RMB (about US$1,000) by the time his new house was finished in Banqiao town, Mianzhu city, Sichuan province. And he was a relatively wealthy farmer, with annual income ranging from 7,000 to 8,000 yuan RMB. One of the reasons he fell into debt was that he received nothing at all for his old house, which had been built after April 3, 1992. [The resettlement policy states that no compensation will be provided for houses built after the National People’s Congress gave the official go-ahead for the Three Gorges project.]

Distant migrants also have difficulty getting loans from government banks or borrowing money from other sources since they are newcomers with no social capital and few friends or relatives in the unfamiliar area. We heard about one group of migrants who wanted to travel to the coastal region to find work as labourers, but had no money to cover the cost of the journey. We think special measures are needed to help those who, for whatever reason, have fallen into poverty in the remote locations where they have been resettled, to assist them in overcoming these temporary difficulties. This is vital if social stability is to be maintained in regions that have received distant migrants from the Three Gorges reservoir area.

4. The biggest problem with local resettlement is the shortage of farmland. We tracked 11 migrant households resettled in Changling town, Wanzhou district, and found that the migrant households had per-capita farmland of less than 0.033 ha, much less than the 0.1 ha promised by the government.

The sharp decline in farmland created a labour surplus in the resettlement site. Before displacement, labourers of all descriptions had been working an annual average of 227.4 days, but this fell to 165.7 days a year in the new location. The labourers who specifically engage in farming experienced a greater decline in working days, from an annual average of 209.5 days before displacement to 99.4 days afterward.

Before resettlement, women labourers worked an annual average of 240.8 days, but after resettlement the figure declined to 157 days. If each woman worked 300 days a year, the current employment rate would be only 52 per cent, compared with 82 per cent before resettlement. As a result, migrants experienced a sharp decline in per-capita income after displacement, with the annual average in the 11 households slumping from 3,431 yuan RMB in 1999 to 2,450 yuan RMB in 2000, a drop of 29 per cent (with variations according to the work undertaken by the households). Unemployment has an impact not only on local economic development, but also on social stability.

Based on our long-term studies of environmental, resettlement and development issues in the Three Gorges area, we think it is vital to achieve a thorough understanding of the complexities and sensitivities surrounding the resettlement issue.

Hidden problems with the resettlement operation should be made public. We don’t think it is a good idea to report only the good news, while withholding unpleasant aspects. We should take migrants’ rights and interests seriously, and never view their reasonable demands as constituting criminal activities.

Communication channels must be opened between the central government and the ordinary citizens who are making way for the big dam, so the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council can listen to the migrants, learn about how they feel and hear their complaints. What we must not do is repress the migrants by blocking out the media and information on resettlement, or by silencing the migrants themselves.

The resettlement process must be scrutinized and monitored by the whole of the Chinese people. We believe that the success of the resettlement operation will depend on whether we protect the migrants’ rights and interests so they are able to build new lives for themselves, along a sustainable path.

Responsibility system

The state first divides the resettlement funds between Hubei province and Chongqing municipality, then allocates funds to each county and city within those regions. The head of the county or city is responsible for fulfilling all the resettlement tasks with the allotted money, and his or her political career depends on this. The amount set by the central government for resettlement in a given region cannot be exceeded in any way, which is known as “the responsibility system of resettlement funding” (yimin jingfei baogan zhi).]

Translated by Mu Lan, editor of the Chinese edition of Three Gorges Probe.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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