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China acknowledges Three Gorges dam ‘problems’

May 19, 2011


The Three Gorges Dam discharges water to lower the level in a reservoir in Yichang (July 2010) The Three Gorges is the world’s largest dam

China has admitted that the Three Gorges Dam has created a range of major problems that need solving quickly.

Top leaders say the project has led to environmental problems and issues involving relocating 1.3m people.

The Three Gorges is the world’s largest dam and could have cost up to $40bn. This appears to be the first time that central government leaders have admitted to problems with the project.

The admission came in a statement from top government body, the State Council.

The statement initially praised the scheme’s achievements, saying it had helped alleviate flooding, improve navigation and generate electricity.

But it went on: “There are urgent problems that need to be addressed, such as stabilising and improving living conditions for relocated people, protecting the environment, and preventing geological disasters.”


China’s revolutionary leader Mao Zedong dreamed of building the Three Gorges Dam. Construction started in 1994.

 More than a million people have been affected by the construction of the dam

The dam was completed in 2006, with the reservoir reaching its full height last year after submerging 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages.

Local leaders and campaign groups have for some time complained about problems associated with the project.

At a government-organised conference in 2007, local officials warned of “environmental catastrophe”.

One problem appears to have been caused by fluctuations in the water level of the vast reservoir, which stretches for 660km (360 miles). This causes frequent landslides.

The government said more also needs to be done to help those forced to move because of the construction.Villagers stand in front of their houses destroyed by floods in Yunnan province (file picture)

They need more jobs, better transport facilities and improved social security benefits, said the State Council, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.

Known problems

The Three Gorges was a contentious scheme even before it was approved.

A third of the members sitting in China’s normally compliant parliament voted against the plan or abstained.

Perhaps in a tacit acknowledgement of the problems, there were no major celebrations when the reservoir reached its full height last year.

In this latest statement, the State Council said it knew about some of the problems even before work started 17 years ago.

It says others arose while the dam was being built and some have happened since, because of “new demands as the social and economical situation developed”.

The task now was to begin sorting out some of these problems, said the government.

  1. Jennifer
    February 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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