Thesis: Reservoir Refugees and the Three Gorges Dam Project

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Reservoir Refugees and the Three

Gorges Dam Project

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Reservoir Refugees and the Three Gorges Dam Project

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the largest project of its kind undertaken in the history of the world. It has also been the costliest in more ways than just the amount of money spent to build it (approx. 80 billion U.S.). The dam can generate 18,000 megawatts of electricity. The intent of former premier Li Peng, the driving force behind the dam in the early 1990s, was to rebuild his own political legacy after the disastrous events at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He claimed the dam would "inspire people but also demonstrate the greatness of the achievement of China's development" (Thai News Service, 2009).

Socio-Economic Impacts

But it is the other costs we will discuss. While building the dam, 1,350 villages were submerged out of existence and 1.3 million people were displaced. Damming the river has changed the ecology of the Yangtze River to such a significant degree that certain types of sturgeon and dolphin are now virtually extinct. Commercial fisheries, not only on the Yangtze, but also in the East China Sea have declined considerably. Fresh water supplies have been polluted. And there has been an increased risk from both landslides and earthquakes (Thai News Service, 2009).

Resettlement Issues

Other estimates of the numbers of people needing to be resettled push the 1.3 million number up to between 1.6 million and 1.9 million. This number is evenly split between urban and rural residents, so that new farmland and urban jobs are both significant issues to resettlement (HRIC, n.d., p. 2).

The first shovelful of dirt was lifted in 1994, and, almost immediately, problems with resettlement became apparent. Though official government sources kept insisting that things were going smoothly, they were not. Mismanagement, corruption, inadequate compensation, and shortages of farmland and urban jobs were a few of the most significant issues.

On the part of the residents being resettled, there was, as might be expected, resentment and procrastination in fighting the resettlement. This was no small issue, but rather, widespread, and it portended a crisis of major proportions as the project continued (HRIC, n.d.).

Additionally, there seems to have been a severe repression of those who had the audacity to complain about the problems including being swindled and mistreated after being moved to inadequate locations with barren hillsides, poor soil for farming and less than satisfactory water supplies.

The problems of resettlement had become so pervasive that, in mid-2006, the Chinese government announced a program to subsidize resettled farmers 600-yuan ($74 U.S.) for 20 years.

It was hoped this would put a lid on the ever-bubbling discontent. Each farmer who moved prior to July 1, 2006 received the supplement. For those still in the process of moving at the time, the subsidy began after resettlement (Haggart & Lan, 2006).

Journalist Dai Qing, a long-standing vocal critic of the Three Gorges Dam, says, "In my view, the new subsidy will discourage people affected by dams from coming forward to voice their problems and to vehemently defend their rights" (Haggart & Lan, 2006), suggesting that the Chinese government is buying silence.

This history of problems with the Chinese government resettling its population for water projects is nothing new. Since the late 1940s, approximately ten million people have been moved often resulting in significant confrontation between those moved and those moving them.

And, in a 1998 investigation conducted by a noted Chinese sociologist with broad experience researching and studying water project resettlements, several additional problems and potential issues with the Three Gorges Dam were noted regarding resettlement issues. These included systematic corruption and misuse of resettlement funds such that significant amounts of subsidy Yuan did not reach resettled people, as well as discrimination against rural residents with the allocation of the resources. There was also found to be a failure of coordinated and satisfactory efforts to ensure information was given to migrant families, and almost no consultation with the populations to be resettled (Three Gorges Dam - the human cost, n.d.). The list of these issues is extensive.

The Chinese government even went to the extent of pointing to "model resettlers" (yimin dianxin), who received preferential treatment, unknown to the general public, and who were presented to the press and visiting dignitaries as typical examples of happy, satisfied resettled families. Some had even opened small shops along with enjoying their new homes, well-paid jobs and adequate compensation. However, each model resettler cost the central government almost four times the amount available for the average relocation of a household, and one wonders what will happen to future resettlers since the total amount for resettling is fixed with millions yet to be resettled (HRIC, n.d., p.3).

And, in just one more example of the drastic attempts to deceive, when Premier Li Peng visited a town that was about to be resettled, many of the residents were upset over the lack of adequate compensation offered and had even organized petition drives with demands for more money. While Li Peng was in the local area, these residents were banned from attending a meeting with the Premier and "substitutes" were brought in to pretend to be satisfied resettlers (HRIC, n.d., p.3).

In early 2007 the government announced a further resettlement plan for some of the farmers previously resettled in a further attempt to quiet the discord, "cure poverty, unemployment and environmental hazards in the area" (Reuters, 2009). The plan did include a statement on the central government's website that acknowledged previous plans had "fallen short" and left some of the displaced residents jobless and "exposed to dangerous geological jolts."

"Problems left over from migration and resettlement must be dealt with in detail, helping migrants to solve the real hardships and problems in their work and lives," the statement goes on to say, " and building a harmonious and stable dam area" (Reuters, 2009).

This was a surprisingly complete refutation of their earlier 2007 statements (above) but was couched in ecological terms, suggesting that some portion of the migrants were being removed to solve erosion and pollution issues. The statement did not address the enormous costs involved in the "re-resettlement."

Human Rights

But the "socio" in "socio-economic" impacts also includes the human rights issues. And, as has been pointed out, violations in this area are rampant. According to Human Rights Watch (1995), any and all opposition to the Three Gorges Dam has been dealt with in the form of firing government officials to arresting activists and demonstrators. In some cases, China's vile penal labor camps have been brought into the equation and raise even more serious concerns.

And, since information to the public is minimal and distorted, it is assumed that the failure of the resettlement program will be significant. This assumption is based on what little data is known and from the failed history of the Chinese government in resettling the population from previous construction projects. In these previous attempts, compensation has been known to be minimal, and, in some cases, absent completely. People from these previous resettlements have ended up in "refugee camp" environments -- far less than the government promises with their talk about happy, satisfied, settled lives and prosperous new beginnings (Hsu, n.d.).

Economic Issues

"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," says Fan Xiao, a Sichuan Province geologist and critic of the Three Gorges project (Yardley, 2007). Dams in China are popular and they are part of big business and a booming economy. Profit-seeking is one of the major reasons that so many dams exist and that there is such a tremendous push behind hydropower. Though it has much to do with self-sufficient energy from a national perspective, there is no question that the big utility companies that build the dams are saturated with both government and private investment money (Yardley, 2007, p.3).

Three Gorges Dam is only the center point of a unified system of up to a dozen large dams on the Yangtze River. Central Chinese officials indicate that more than 100 hydropower stations could be built within the next 20 years. Thirteen more dams are planned along the Nu River, as well as many more along other tributaries.

One of the economic considerations is that, as with Three Gorges, development of hydropower does not necessarily make social and economic conditions better. In a report written by Chinese scientists, it states that though the dams are as modern as any in Europe, "the residents will become as poor as people in Africa" (Yardley, 2007. P.4).

Fifty-six square miles of China's best agricultural land has been drowned. In order to compensate for this loss of production, farmers in other areas have to increase output from already depleted and overused land. This means the population will probably… [END OF PREVIEW]

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