[Marxism] The human toll of the Three Gorges Dam

Louis Proyect 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

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 
300 gigawatts.

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.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/world/asia/19dam.html

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