Dams and Landslides

In man versus nature, nature always wins

(August 26, 2010) More evidence that the fallout from natural disasters hitting countries like Pakistan are being made worse made poor development.

In the wake of the devastating floods in Pakistan, a number of environmentalists and other critics have blamed failed development policies for worsening the impact of floods. Shedding more light on this debate is Jeremy Hsu, from Livescience.com who, in a recent piece, looks at the “natural” disasters that have continually wreaked havoc on floodplain populations.

He argues that, ultimately, attempts to reroute nature through the complex use of mega-dams and other engineering projects often leads to “even more complex problems.”

Hsu focuses his attention, particularly, on the controversial Three Gorges dam and interviews John Byrne, director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, who believes the best approach for controlling floods on the Yangtze River would have been to build “a number of smaller, regionally-focused dams.”

“The dam (Three Gorges) has had difficulty dealing with the volume,” Byrne explained.

“They have had to institute controlled releases that then flood the downstream areas in order to prevent the dam from being in a hazardous condition.”

A series of smaller dams, he says, could have released water without the high flood levels that accompany the Three Gorges Dam releases.

“Anytime you try to engineer a river on this large scale, you’ll have an impact that is problematic,” Byrne said.

Hsu also highlights the exaggerated claims—and subsequent backtracking by officials—that have accompanied the construction of Three Gorges. He’s referring to the recent scandal that erupted after netizen posted a history of boastful flood control claims by Three Gorges officials that had appeared in official media mouthpieces going back to 2003.

“The Three Gorges dam is impenetrable, can withstand a once in 10,000 year flood,” one official news source said in 2003. By 2007, the boast was downgraded to “Three Gorges dam can resist a once in 1,000 year flood.” And by 2008, as the prospect of having to control a real flood grew nearer, dam officials became more cautious and claimed that “Three Gorges can handle a once in 100 year flood.”

Probe International, August 26, 2010

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