Three Gorges Probe

Special report: Resettlement problems of the Three Gorges dam (part I)

Wu Ming
International Rivers Network
July 8, 1998

Earlier this year, sociologist Wu Ming travelled to the counties around the Three Gorges Dam. Here is an excerpt from his study, published by the International Rivers Network in March, 1998.

Construction is now under way on the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, at the Three Gorges at the middle reaches of the Yangtze River. If all proceeds on schedule, in the year 2003, water will fill its huge reservoir at a level of 135 metres above sea level to allow the first group of electrical generators to begin operation. The entire project is to be completed in 2009. To make way for this ambitious project, the Chinese government says 1.2 million people will be relocated. Critics of the dam, however, predict that the total number of resettlers will actually be much higher: between 1.6 million and 1.9 million. About half of these will be urban residents and the other half are rural residents who will need either new farmland or urban jobs to restart their lives.

Although a relatively small number of people have been relocated since ground was broken on the dam in 1994, serious problems have already emerged. Official statements give the impression that resettlement is proceeding smoothly, but in reality it has been plagued by mismanagement, official corruption, inadequate compensation, and a shortage of farmland and lack of jobs for the resettlers. Resentment and foot-dragging opposition to resettlement is widespread, presaging a major crisis if the dam project continues as planned. My report on these problems is based on interviews conducted during January 1998 in five of the 22 counties that will be partially flooded by the dam.

The people I interviewed included workers, farmers, small-business owners, and local officials in Yunyang, Fengjie, and Wushan counties in Sichuan Province and in Badong and Zigui counties in Hubei Province, from which a total of 420,000 people are scheduled to be relocated.


II. Routine Falsification of Figures

One fundamental problem in assessing the Three Gorges resettlement program is that the official figures appear to be false, and the success stories fabricated. For example, four Sichuan journalists who are assigned to report full-time on the progress of resettlement told me that county officials in Sichuan and Hubei claimed at a conference in January that 200,000 people had already been resettled. If accurate, that number would mean that resettlement was ahead of schedule. But the journalists explained the 200,000 figure was an exaggeration by local officials wishing to impress their superiors. One journalist said that he had travelled extensively in the Three Gorges area, and that the actual figures were generally no more than half the official ones. Even senior officials at the Three Gorges Project Resettlement Bureau, he said, do not believe that 200,000 people have been resettled. Several days after our conversation, a report appeared on the front page of Wanxian Daily in which Qi Lin, the head of the Three Gorges Project Resettlement Bureau, was quoted as saying that only 100,000 people had been resettled so far. The report did not say whether these people had been properly resettled according to the government’s own definition, namely that they must be found a new home, new livelihood and compensation for their losses.

Interviews in Yunyang County demonstrated why it is difficult for even the head of the Three Gorges Resettlement Bureau to get hold of reliable information. Yunyang has 120,000 people slated for relocation. In early January, the Yunyang County government opened an exhibition on resettlement. A chart at the exhibition listed three categories of resettlers. First, 5,940 people were identified as "productively resettled" (shengchan anzhi), meaning that they had either new farmland or new factory jobs. Second, 2,610 people were said to be "residentially resettled" (shenghuo anzhi), meaning a place had been found for them to re-establish their homes. And third, 187 people were classified as "account-closed resettlers" (xiaohao Yemen), meaning they had received their share of the compensation and moving expenses and the authorities had no further responsibility towards them. All these figures are problematic, if not completely false, according to a Yunyang official. In a private conversation, this official pointed out that the actual figure for the "productively resettled" people (those who had been given new land or industrial jobs) was at most 3,000. At this early stage of the resettlement program, he explained, the people the county government was trying to relocate were mostly farmers, but only 2,000 of the 24,367 mu of farmland that has reportedly been prepared for resettlers was usable. He said the rest of the newly opened land was described by local farmers as "looking like ditches from a distance and like pigsties at close."

As for the "account-closed resettlers," this actually referred to an unfortunate group of farmers who had been persuaded to move to the island province of Hainan under a deal that was struck by Yunyang county and Hainan officials. They returned to Yunyang six months later, the project. Journalists are aware that raising serious questions about the progress of relocation, let alone its very feasibility, could ruin their careers. The tone and substance of their reporting are, therefore, mostly set by the position which local officials consider appropriate. In terms of day-to-day coverage in the Three Gorges area, media reports in Sichuan Province expose somewhat more of the problems than do those in Hubei Province. Sichuan reports indicate that many high- and middle-ranking Sichuan officials have serious doubts about the project, understandably, since more than 80 percent of the people to be relocated are in Sichuan. Many Sichuan officials are upset that their province is bearing the brunt of relocation and loss of land and property, and that the central government has been unable to mobilize sufficient contributions for Sichuan from the down-river provinces and cities that will supposedly benefit from the project.

(To be continued)


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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