Dai Qing and Three Gorges

Three Gorges pushes another 300,000 off their land, surprises nobody

(January 21, 2010) The Chinese government is preparing to push another 300,000 residents living near the Three Gorges dam off their land to make way for what officials are calling an “eco-screen, or buffer belt.”

The 300,000 residents soon to be displaced come on top of the 1.138 million people that have, officially, already made way for the massive hydro electric project.

According to state media outlets, the buffer belt is part of a plan to improve water quality in the dam’s reservoir and “reduce the contamination from residents living nearby.” State officials also say the increased threat of geographic hazards, such as landslides, caused by the raising and lowering of the reservoir, is another reason for the recent round of resettlements.

Hu Jiahai, a deputy of the local people’s congress, says the move is part of a general plan being pushed forward by the State Council—meaning it is very likely to be initiated in the near future. Hu said it could be carried out as early as this year and will receive “no less than the previous 40 billion yuan ($5.8-billion) to compensate migrants during the dam-building period”.

“Rampant geographic hazards,” such as landslides that threaten the area around the dam, have already been brought to light by government officials. According to the latest report from the Chongqing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), 9,324 sites were potentially threatened by geographic hazards—with 3,812 new sites that have emerged since 2003.  The report also noted that since 2008, 243 dangerous geographic problems, most notably landslides, have occurred around the Chongqing section of the reservoir since 2008.

These “geographic hazards” are estimated to have cost around 640 million yuan ($93-million) in damage.

But the increasing number of migrants being forced off their land should not come as a surprise, as critics have been saying for years that more residents would eventually have to make way for the dam. Dai Qing, for example, said the project would eventually force the resettlement of at least 1.9 million residents—500,000 more than the Chinese government says will be necessary.

“By now, nobody really knows how many people will be relocated, some put it at 1.47 million, some say 1.13 million,” she says. “A few days ago the number was 200,000, now the number is 300,000. No one has given a clear estimate on how many people will ultimately be moved.”

These new relocations will not be cheap, and will likely push the ever-escalating cost of the dam even higher. Government officials claim the dam costs $27-billion—but critics, such as Ms. Dai, believe the cost of the dam may eventually reach $88-billion once all the environmental and social costs are included. For example, studies have shown that the lives of the migrants often suffer after being relocated—even after receiving compensation packages from the government.

Corruption has also plagued the resettlement programs.

None of this surprises Dai Qing, who was jailed for publishing the critical views of Chinese experts in her 1989 landmark book, Yangtze! Yangtze! From the beginning, government officials who supported construction of Three Gorges did everything possible to lower cost estimates for the project, she says, including low-balling the number of people who would have to move.

It was a devious way to fool people, and it was wrong.

“Twenty-five years ago, many people voiced their opinions against the project, but the dam went ahead nevertheless,” says Dai Qing. “It is a disaster for our country. If there is no change and reform in our political and economic systems, I am afraid more disasters will occur.”

Brady Yauch, Probe International, January 21, 2010

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