China's Three Gorges Dam and India's Narmada River Research Paper

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China's Three Gorges Dam And India's Narmada River Dam

China and India, two fast growing economies of the world, are at the center of controversy relating to the construction of Dams. China's 'Three Gorges dam' built in the mighty Yangtze river, the third largest river in the world, and the 'Sardar Sarovar Dam' constructed in the Heart of the Narmada river, the fifth largest river in India have both evoked severe criticism from environmental and social activists. These two Asian giants being the most populous nations in the world are engaged in a desperate struggle to meet the growing energy requirements propelled by their surging economies. Power generation and agricultural production are two important concerns for these two nations as they are slowly emerging as global economic powerhouses. The increasing global shift towards a 'low carbon economy' and the pressures mounting on China and India to control carbon emissions has forced these countries into seriously looking at non-coal energy sources. The Hydroelectric power generation from the construction of the dam is therefore an important alternative energy source for both the countries. Dams also help control flood and therefore help save millions of lives and billions worth of property. However, there are other serious environmental concerns involved with the construction of Dams. A brief overview of the economic and environmental challenges involved in the construction of the 'Three Gorges Dam' and the "Sardar Sarovar Dam' would shed more light into the controversies surrounding these projects.

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Research Paper on China's Three Gorges Dam and India's Narmada River Dam Assignment

The idea of a dam in the Yangtze river dates way back to 1919 when the national leader Sun Yat-sen first proposed the project. The Yangtze river has a terrifying reputation and China is hit by devastating floods every few years causing enormous loss of human lives. The Aug 1998 flood for instance cost 3000 lives and more than 2 million people were displaced. [Discovery Channel] The Three gorges dam was envisioned with a purpose to contain these natural disasters. In 1992, the state environmental agency approved the project and the construction work commenced in 1994 and by Oct 2008, the last of the 26 generators started to work. At 607 feet high and 1.4 miles long, the 'Three gorges Dam' is considered an engineering marvel and stands proudly as the world's biggest hydropower plant with a total capacity of 18,200 MW. Built at a cost of 25 Billion $, the Three Gorges Project is also one of the most expensive construction projects in the world. When fully operational, the generators in the dam can produce the energy equivalent of 18 nuclear power plants that could meet atleast 10% of China's electricity needs. [Discovery Channel] Much of the power generated from the dam is supplied to the eastern provinces of China and the city of Shangai is one of the most benefited by the project. Also with some of the largest ship locks in the world, the 'Three gorges dam' has created a boom for large ship commerce. However, there are other significant environmental concerns that surround this ambitious project.

Environmental Impact

One of the consequences of the Dam construction and water retention is the dam submergence zone, which will typically involve hundreds of villages. It is estimated that over 36,000 square miles will be inundated as the water in the Yangtze river surges. Two major cities, 140 towns will be submerged by the Yangtze river. Resettlement of people who have been living in these submergence zones was one of the important tasks for the government. It is estimated that as many as 1. 3 million people were relocated to newly constructed towns. [Steven Benson, (2009)] Cultures and communities are displaced as these people who have been living for generations in these regions were forced to move out. Another downside of the dam is the submergence of more than 1200 archeological sites that lie across the valleys of the Yangtze river. [Discovery Channel] Though the government excavated and shifted hundreds of antiquities from these zones before the dam water surged and inundated these zones, it is estimated that a lot of these invaluable antiques are now under water.

The dam has affected the entire ecosystem and the consequences are serious. The fishermen upstream who were dependent on the availability of river fish are complaining that the low water levels have affected the fish population. Further east, the city of Shangai, though benefiting from the power generation by the dam, is affected by the loss of fresh water supply for drinking. The increasing silt deposits, the increased seismic activity and the frequent incidents of landslides in the regions surrounding the dam are now showing the repercussions of the 'Three gorges Project'. As some of the landslides occurred in the relocated zones, it has forced the government to find new relocation zones for the people. The Chinese authorities who were tightlipped about the environmental impacts of the project have now openly admitted that the "Three Gorges Dam project has caused an array of ecological ills, including more frequent landslides and pollution, and if preventive measures are not taken, there could be an environmental 'catastrophe' " [Peter H. Gleick (2009)]

Narmada Dam

The 'Sardar Sarovar dam' constructed in Narmada river was also a long conceived plan and the inauguration of the project work started as early as1961 by the then prime minister of India Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru. [PBS] The entire Narmada valley project comprises of 30 large dams and 3000 small dams and the Sardar Sarovar dam is one of the large dams with a proposed total height of 138.68 meters. [AID] Unlike the 'Three Gorges project', which was mainly constructed for power generation and flood control, the Narmada project was mainly developed for irrigation purposes with power generation being a secondary concern. India though much smaller than China has 30% more arable land and agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. According to the official reports, the Narmada project will irrigate 18.45 lac ha of land covering as many as 3112 villages in the state of Gujarat, 75,000 ha. Of land in the state of Rajasthan and 35,000 ha. In the state of Maharashtra. The project would also provide drinking water supply for more than 18 million residents of the drought prone Saurashtra and Kachchh regions. Also, the river bed and canal head power projects from the dam could generate 1200 MW and 250 MW respectively that is shared among the three states Madhya Pradesh - 57%, Maharashtra - 27% and Gujarat 16% respectively. [Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam]

Initially the dam had a height of 81.5 meters. The early nineties saw increased protests and litigations against the Sardar Sarovar Project. One of the main issues against increasing the height of the Narmada dam was the poor management of the rehabilitation and resettlement of over 320,000 people. The most prominent opposition was from the Narmada Bahcao Andolan, an NGO mobilized by the famous social activist Medha Patkar. [Friends of River Narmada] Owing to the complaints and increasing protests against the neglected resettlement, the World Bank conducted an independent review and finally backed out of the project. Following this, the Supreme Court also issued a stay order on 5 May 1995 and construction to increase the height was halted until 1999 when an interim order allowed the dam height to be raised to 88 meters. Finally, On 18 October 2000 the court cleared the Project and construction was allowed to reach the maximum height of 138.68 m. [AID] However, despite the dam nearing its completion there is significant delay in developing the distribution networks of around 75,000 kms, which has deprived the villagers from reaping the benefits. Unlike the Chinese project, the Narmada dam project has been plagued by poor rehabilitation programs and delayed completion of the main canal and the secondary distribution networks. [AID]

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