Dams and Landslides

Three Dams Project

Durham university webpage


  1. The IssueChina has undertaken the greatest project since the erection of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal — the Three Gorges Dam project. The Three Gorges Dam will be the largest hydropower station and dam in the world, with a 1.2 mile stretch of concrete and a 370 mile-long reservoir and 525 feet deep. This project will cost more than virtually any other single construction project in history.
  2. DescriptionThe idea of building a dam across the Yangtze river to control flooding and to and to harness it for hydropower has been the dream of several generations of Chinese since the time of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, forerunner of China’s democratic revolution. The first proposition for construction dates back to the year 1919, when Dr. Sun Yat Sen suggested to build a dam at the Three Gorges. Since 1954, Chinese and foreign scientists and engineers have devoted themselves to the planning, design and consulting work of the project.

    As planned, the capacity of Three Gorges dam, 17 million kilowatts, will top that of the largest dam currently operating by 40 percent. Its projected annual power generation of 84 billion kilowatt-hours is equivalent to a coal mine capacity of 40 to 50 million tons per year. The project will supply power mainly to the central China grid of Hubei, Hunan, Henen, and Jiangsu, and Anhui. It will cost (in 1990 prices) as estimated RMB 57 billion ($ 10.57 billion). Once completed, the dam will be 185 meters high and store 39.3 billion cubic meters of water. It will create a reservoir 36 miles long and 525 feet deep.

    Supporters say the benefits of the project far outweigh the costs. The principal advantage of the project is to generate power to keep pace with China’s economic growth. It is estimated that China’s power output must rise by 8 percent annually to keep pace with 6 percent annual increase in gross national product. In practical term, that means the nation’s total 1990 power capacity of 130 million kilowatts must grow to 580 million by the year 2015.

    Chinese officials note that the dam will relieve the danger of flooding. The Chang Jing River Valley has been chronically threatened by flooding. For example, in 1954, a flood killed 30.000 people and left one million homeless. In addition, navigation capacities on the river from Yichang to Chongging will be improved, thus, 10.000 tons fleets can make direct trips.

    Another advantage of the dam is to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide; generating electricity equal to about 40 million tons of coal. China’s growing coal consumption poses a huge threat to the environment. Coal burning emits several harmful air pollution including carbon dioxide (CO2), a major contribution to the global warming. Three quarters of the country’s energy comes from coal. China used between 1.1 and 1.2 bn tons of coal in 1993, mostly for heating and generating electricity. Industry source predict China will consume as much as 1.5 to 1.6 bn tons by the year 2000. Sulfur dioxide emissions, which cause acid rain, are expected to rise from 15.5 million tons in 1991 to 1.4 billion.

    However, social costs of resettlement and environmental damage are enormous. Environmental sustainability of the project in relation to massive resettlement and ecological damage is to be focused in this paper. Chinese officials estimate that the reservoir will partially or completely inundate 2 cities, 11 counties, 140 towns, 326 townships, and 1351 villages. About 23800 hectares, more than 1.1 million people will have to be resettled, accounting for about one third of the project’s cost. Many critics believe resettlement would fail and create reservoir refugees. The forced migration would raise social unrest. Many of the residents to be resettled are peasants. They would be forced to move from fertile farmland to much less desirable areas.

    In April 1992, the National Peopleþs Congress approved the construction of the Chang Jiang River, the worldþs third largest river, as part of Chinaþs 10-year development program. The project has four goals: to prevent flooding of the navigation on the river, and to generate power for the surrounding communities. It consists of three parts: a dam, a hydropower station and navigation facilities.

    The impact to international trade is indirect, but nonetheless, important. The construction of the hydroelectric dam requires numerous international inputs, such as machinery and hydraulic equipment. Moreover, the generated power of 17 million kilowatts will be used for industry to boost outputs. The ground breaking began December, 1994, but the resettlement of residents had begun two years before that. The full-scale construction is currently underway and the projected completion date is 15 years away in the year 2010.

    In April 1992, the plan was formally endorsed by the National Peopleþs Congress (NPC). It is believed that the project will alter the entire ecological system and environment in the area. Not only will it divert the riverþs natural course, but it will also reclaim hundreds of acres of land that is the habitat for many species.

    The project will also cause devastating environmental damage, increasing the risk of earthquakes and landslides. It will also threaten the riverþs wildlife. In addition to massive fish species, it will also affect endangered species, including the Yangtze dolphin, the Chinese Sturgeon, the Chinese Tiger, the Chinese Alligator, the Siberian Crane, and the Giant Panda. Moreover, silt trapped behind the dam will not only deprive downstream regions, but also will impede power generation from the back-up. Construction of the dam would require extensive logging in the area. Finally, the dam and the reservoir will destroy some of Chinaþs finest scenery and an important source of tourism revenue.

  3. Related Cases
    ATATURK case
         MEKONG case
         COLORADO case
         Keyword Clusters
         (1): Forum                    = CHINA
         (2): Bio-geography            = TEMPerate
         (3): Environmental Problem    = HABITat Loss
    • Draft Author: Susan Lynne Tillou and Yuri Honda B. Legal Filters
    • Discourse and Status: Disagreement and In Progress
    • Forum and Scope: CHINA and UNILATeral The forum to which the case applies is domestic. However, due to international funding possibilities and other international environmental groupsþ concern over the issue, it has developed somewhat of an international multilateral focus. It is bilateral in the sense that it involves the agreement of and commitment to financial funding between China and other lending countries on an individual basis. Many international environmentalists have become involved by supporting the cause of those who fight against the project domestically. There are no existing domestic rules to regulate environmentally unsound dam projects. However, standards and compliance mechanisms enforced by international lending institutions are — and might continue to impose — indirect regulatory pressure on the Chinese government. Therefore, the project remains a function of domestic politics within the Communist Party. This project is controversial both inside and outside China. Outside China, the chief focus of opposition to the dam is the International Three Gorge Coalition headed by Green China, a group of Chinese students based in the United States. Other members include the Overseas Chinese Ecological Society, Friends of the Earth, and the Canadian group, Probe International. There is also opposition within China. About one third of the 1992 National People’s Congress either voted against authorizing Three Gorges or abstained. (Li Qin You and Gwynne Peter) Although the political repression that has set in after the June 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown has silenced public criticism, the vote itself was held in the midst of loud protests. Also, deputies to the People’s Congress, including the former vice-minister for water conservancy, Li Rui, and the former deputy director of state planning, Tian Fang have protested the project. Several arguments have been held among the United States environmentalists. In December 1991, a coalition of wilderness groups argued the Endangered Spices Act should be applied to the US-funded project abroad including this Three Gorges Dam project. Also, in September 1993, seven U.S. environmental group filed a lawsuit in the U.S. district court to block the participation of two federal agencies (the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers) from helping design and build the Three Gorges dam. They also claimed the violation of the Endangered Species Act. The World Bank is not likely to provide assistance for the project because of a reluctance to provide assistance to hydro electric projects. The bank was severely criticized for providing assistance for a controversial hydroelectric dam project in India.
    • Decision Breadth/Number of Parties affected: 1 The Three Gorges Dam, in all of its magnanimity, does not involve any other parties in the sense of sovereign states affected by its construction. While many countries and organizational institutions are ethically or financially involved, the projectþs construction will not affect anyone outside of Chinaþs borders.
    • Legal Standing: LAW The Three Gorges Project Feasibility Study Report was recompiled in May 1989. A large source of tension in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 were the protestorsþ opposition to the construction of the dam. The dam project became politicized by the CCP leaders desire to continue with the plan in the face of the demonstrations. It was formally endorsed by the National Peopleþs Congress in April 1992, and the project begun in December, 1994. C. Geographic Filters
    • Geography
      1. Asia
      2. Northeast Asia
      3. China

      The Three Gorges is the general name for the Qutang, Wuxia, and Xiling gorges. The Three Gorges area begins at Baidicheng in Fengjie County, Sichuan Province, and ends at Nanjinguan in Yichang County, Hubei province, a distance of 193 kilometers. The Three Gorges area, well known for its precipitous terrain and numerous scenic spots, has been listed as the best of the top 40 scenic spots in China.

    • Sub-National Factors: YES Sichuan province, which is upstream of the dam, will receive only a fraction of the electricity generated by the dam. In addition, it will bear the burden of accommodating resettled people displaced by the project. On the other hand, Hubei province, which is down stream would benefit greatly from improved flood control and increased energy. Thus, regional conflicts will be inevitable.
    • Type of Habitat: Temperate D. Trade Filters
    • Type of Measure: Regulatory Ban [REGBAN] In relation to Three Gorges project, there has been no specific measures implemented to deal with the trade in energy and trade in parts and equipment for the construction. However, approval of the National Peopleþs Congress for the construction of the Three Gorges project can be classified as an administrative measure.
    • Direct vs. Indirect Impact: INDirect Since no specific measures have been implemented, China is eager to import international parts and equipment for the dam construction. The China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, which is responsible for overseeing the entire project, announced that some stages of construction would be opened to bids from international companies. The government has also approved importing key technologies, materials, and spare parts needed to build the twenty-six 680,000 kilowatt turbogenerators and the 50,000 volt high tension transmission lines. Joint ventures for the dam itself are also possible. These parts and equipment are expensive and therefor, the amount of trade should be significant. Technical assistance from abroad, such as the United States and Japan, constitute international service flows. For example, the U.S. Department of Interiorþs Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers are helping with technical assistance on design and construction.
    • Relation of Measure to Resource Impact
       a.  Directly Related:                NO
            b.  Indirectly Related:              YES  Equipment
            c.  Not Related to Product:          NO
            d.  Related to Process:              YES  Habitat loss

      As stated above, there have been no specific measures
      implemented. However, traded parts and equipment are directly
      related to the construction as well as the process of construction
      of the dam. Also, generated power will be used by industries.
      Thus, the project is indirectly related to the production of
      tradable outputs, and directly related to loss of ecological

      A special economic region affected by the generated power will
      be set up in the Three Gorges area. The region will cover the area
      of Chongqing, Poolin, Wanxuan and Qianjiang. It is hoped that the
      new region will be able to develop hi-tech industries and will
      affect Chinaþs trade outputs.

    • Trade Product Identification: MANYIn this case, the trade products will be the inputs to the dam
      construction, such as power generators, machinery, construction
      equipment, and technical services. In addition, various industrial
      products would be traded if the power could be used for industries
      in the area. Although Chinaþs export of generated electricity to
      neighbor countries is possible, the electricity would tend to be
      consumed within China due to the location of the dam.
    • Economic DataThe dam and reservoir will destroy some of Chinaþs finest
      tourism brought the city $43 million and 400 million yuan. It was
      host to 437,000 foreign visitors and is aiming at a 15 percent
      growth in 1994. Most of the visitors come from Taiwan, followed by
      Hong Kong, Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia.
    • Degree of Competitive Impact: LOWMany argue that the dam will bring about a scenario where
      trade is more efficient. However, the displacement of people
      coupled with the possibility of silting and upstream flooding that
      will result, could hinder those who expedite the trade as well as
      the crops and businesses they support within the vicinity of the
      dam. The impact of potential trade restriction on dam parts,
      equipment and technical assistance may result in preventing between
      the benefits of economic growth attained by the generate power
      through the dam construction and costs of destroying the
      environment. While the dam would create power to lead economic
      growth, sustainability of the project in terms of the environment
      and ecology must be brought into question.
    • Industry Sector: UTILityThe trade product associated with the Three Gorges Dam project
      is electrical machinery. Electrical Machinery will be brought in
      to China over the next 15 years to construct and operate the site.
      The indirect impact that this project has will conceivably be
      associated with every category on the Standard Industrial Code
      (SIC) list.
    • Exporter and Importer: CHINA and MANYHydroelectric dams have been built in many countries like
      India, Thailand, Brazil and the United States. Dam construction in
      developing countries requires massive international inputs which
      are usually imported from developed countries.

      E. ENVIRONMENTAL Filters

    • Environmental Problem Type: Habitat loss
    • Species Information
      Name:          MANY
           Type:          MANY
           Diversity:     ?

      The project will have a devastating ecological impact. The
      dam will alter the natural environment, and therefore, an almost
      infinite number of species will be affected by the project. The
      endangered species affected by the project include the Giant Panda,
      Chinese Tiger, Chinese Alligator, the Yangtze Dolphin, the Chinese
      Sturgeon, and the Siberian Crane. In addition, the project
      requires extensive logging in the area.

    • Impact and Effect: HIGH and SCALEIn addition to the above stated endangered species being
      threatened, the dam will destroy commercial fish stocks and the
      livelihood of fisherman. It will also induce the danger of
      earthquakes and landslides. Thus, environmental structures in the
      area will be directly affected by the project.
    • Urgency and Lifetime: HIGH and 100s of yearsThe environmental impact of the dam project will be enormous
      and far-reaching. Affected species including the endangered
      species could be wiped out. For example, the Yangtze dolphin has
      a population of only about 200 and the World Wildlife Fund lists it
      as one of the most endangered creatures on Earth. The construction
      of the dam is in progress. Thus, the urgency of the problem is very
      high and immediate measures to protect these species are required
      if the dam construction continues.
    • Substitutes: LIKEA switch can be made in project direction from one monstrous
      dam to a number of smaller dams to monitor for flood control and
      redirect water for crops. While they would not supply the huge
      amounts of energy that the Three Gorges Dam would supply, they
      would most certainly be more environmentally friendly.

      The environmental impact of the dam project will be enormous
      and far-reaching. Affected species including the endangered
      species could be wiped out. For example, the Yangtze dolphin has
      a population of only about 200 and the World Wildlife Fund lists it
      as one of the most endangered creatures on Earth.

      F: OTHER Factors

    • Culture: YESChinese culture in the sense of historical destruction does
      come into play. It was found that about 800 sites of local culture
      will be submerged, including more than 300 sites of above ground
      cultural relics. Also, the Three Gorges project will submerge some
      of Chinaþs most famous historical scenery and tourist sites, the
      subject of a multitude of paintings, poems and songs.

      The dam construction is a threat to the people who are
      displaced from their land. They will lose the roots of their
      culture when resettling to different places; Chinese farmers have
      a deep attachment to the land that has traditionally been theirs.
      Also, the Three Gorges project will submerge some of China’s most
      famous historical relics and scenery, the subject of myriad
      paintings and poems. These include Qu Yuan Temple, Yon yang
      County’s Temple of Zhang fei, the Han watch tower, and the
      carvings on the Moya Cliff. It was found that about 800 sites of
      cultural relics will be submerged, including more than 300 sites of
      above ground cultural relics. Thus, the project will have a
      negative impact on Chinese culture. However, Chinese officials
      addressed conservation of these ancient relics and places of
      historical interest. Some of them will be removed or rebuilt, some
      will have to be duplicated and the others will be put into museums.

    • Human Rights: YESHuman Rights activists point out that internal opposition to
      the project was suppressed after Tiananmen Square massacre. Also,
      massive resettlement might fail, in light of its scale and the poor
      record of most other resettlement efforts. Consequently, the
      project would create millions of reservoir refugees.
    • Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
    • Relevant Literature
      Asia's Environmental Crisis, edited by Michael C. Howard, Westview
      Press, Boulder, 1993.
      CIA Factbook  (1994 statistics on countries)
      Culture and Negotiation:  the Resolution of Water disputes, edited
      by Guy Olivier Faure, Jeffrey Z. Rubin, Newbury Park, Calif., SAGE
      Publications, 1993.
      "China: Boffins Rack Brains Over Silt."  Shanghai Star.  March 11,
      "China: Dam Project Faces Resistance From Some Officials."
      InterPress Service. June 7, 1994.
      "China's Great Wall of Water."  International Herald Tribune. July
      20, 1994.
      Chinaþs Environmental Crisis:  An Inquiry into the Limits of
      National Development, Vaclav Smil, M.E. Sharpe, New York, 1993.
      "Dams: Japan, Bank Fund Narmaka Project; China Seeks $." Greenwire.
      November 3, 1992.
      "Environmental Group sues U.S. over AID to China dam."   Reuters
      North American Wire.  September 14, 1993.
      Environment and Trade:  The Relation of International Trade and
      Environmental Policy, edited by Seymour J. Rubin and Thomas R.
      Graham, Totowa, N.J., 1982.
      Electronic Mailing List for Three Gorges Project (supported by Dr.
      Yegang Wu) electronic address: yegang.wu@sfwmd.gov
      Internet site, :http://www.ic.gov/94fact/country/(China - 51.html,
      Hong Kong -  108.html)
      Jianguo Yao.  "Dream and Reality."  Beijing Review.  July 3, 1989.
      Lena H. Sun. "Dam Could Alter Face of China."  The Washington Post.
      December 31, 1991.
      Li Qin You and Gwynne Peter.  "Yangtze Project Dammed with Faint
      Praise."  Nature.  April 30, 1992.
      State of the Environment in Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok:  United
      Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific,
      "State of the Environment," Far Eastern Economic Review, v. 156
      January 14, 1993, p.43.
      "Three Gorges no watery grave for tourism hopes."  South China
      Morning Post.  May 5, 1994.
      "Three Gorges project proceeding smoothly."  Beijing Review.
      November 15, 1993.
      "World Bank Backs Unsound China Dam."  The New York Times.
      February 7, 1992.
      World Resources. World Resource Institute.  New York.  Oxford:
      Oxford University Press. 1994.
      Yangtze! Yangtze!, Dai Qing, edited (in English) by Patricia Adams
      and John Thibodeau, EarthScan, 1994.

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