[Marxism] The human toll of the Three Gorges Dam
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 19 11:19:15 MST 2007
NY Times, November 19, 2007
Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs
By JIM YARDLEY
JIANMIN VILLAGE, China — Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the
completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world
records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest
power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel.
Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people
made the list as record No. 10.
Today, the Communist Party is hoping the dam does not become China’s
biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the
dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and
landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want
to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first.
The rising controversy makes it easy to overlook what could have been
listed as world record No. 11: The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s
biggest man-made producer of electricity from renewable energy.
Hydropower, in fact, is the centerpiece of one of China’s most praised
green initiatives, a plan to rapidly expand renewable energy by 2020.
The Three Gorges Dam, then, lies at the uncomfortable center of China’s
energy conundrum: The nation’s roaring economy is addicted to dirty,
coal-fired power plants that pollute the air and belch greenhouse gas
emissions that contribute to global warming. Dams are much cleaner
producers of electricity, but they have displaced millions of people in
China and carved a stark environmental legacy on the landscape.
“It’s really kind of a no-win situation,” said Jonathan Sinton, China
program manager at the International Energy Agency. “There are no ideal
For now, China’s choice is to keep building big dams, even as the social
and environmental impacts of the projects are increasingly questioned.
The Three Gorges Dam is projected as an anchor in a string of hydropower
“mega-bases” planned for the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze
River. By 2020, China wants to nearly triple its hydropower capacity, to
The Communist Party leaders who broke ground on the Three Gorges project
in 1994 had promised that China could build the world’s biggest dam,
manage the world’s biggest human resettlement and also protect the
environment. Critics warned of potential dangers, but saw those
objections pushed aside. Now, critics say, the problems at the Three
Gorges underscore the risks of the new phase of dam building, which
could displace more than 300,000 people.
“In western China, the one-sided pursuit of economic benefits from
hydropower has come at the expense of relocated people, the environment
and the land and its cultural heritage,” Fan Xiao, a Sichuan Province
geologist and a critic of the Three Gorges project, said via e-mail.
“Hydropower development is disorderly and uncontrolled, and it has
reached a crazy scale.”
Advocates say hydropower is one of China’s richest and least tapped
energy resources. Even though much of the country is plagued with
drought and water shortages, China also boasts a knot of important
rivers that flow out of the Tibetan high plateau. Currently, China uses
only about one-fourth of its hydropower potential.
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