The heavy price of China’s mega-dam

Landslides pose growing threat around Three Gorges Dam project.

The environment impact of the Three Gorges Dam project may only just be becoming apparent

Eking out a living on the steep banks of China‘s Yangtze river, farmer Xiong Dao Cai, and his family make less than a dollar a day.


Life has never been easy, but in June their home was destroyed in a landslide, and things became much harder.


Factfile: Three Gorges Dam

Project due for completion in 2009

Official cost $25bn, although actual cost thought to be much higher

Reservoir created by dam is 660 km long

1.5 million people forced to move to make way for reservoir so far

Another 4 million will have to move by 2020

Dam is 2100 metres long and almost 200 metres high

Now their only shelter is a tent.


As China‘s bitter winter sets in, the makeshift shelter offers little protection, and the government has given them nothing but empty promises


“It’s cruel,” Xiong says. “Now we haven’t got any compensation. I already borrowed more than a thousand dollars to try to rebuild my house, as well as my own savings.”


Liu Dai Guo, the village chief recalls the story of that day in June.


They awoke at 5, he says, cracks appearing in walls and floors of their homes.


Within a space of four hours, 54 houses had disappeared down the mountain side.


Thankfully nobody died and today all that remains are piles of rubble – nothing has been rebuilt.


As far as the villagers are concerned there is only one thing is to blame


“It’s caused by the Three Gorges Dam reservoir,” says Liu.




Farmer Xiong Dao Cai lost his home in a
landslide and has received no compensation

“The foundation here is very soft – it’s soil not rock. When the lower part comes under increasing pressure from what’s above, then a landslide happens.”


The area around the Three Gorges is made up of steep mountains jutting out into the river.


They are not geologically sound and are prone to landslides.


Situated in China‘s Hubei province, the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s biggest hydro-electric project.


It was built to provide electricity for the country’s booming economy and to control flooding on the Yangtze.


But since the reservoir behind the dam was flooded, raising the water level by 150 metres, it seems to have made a difficult situation even worse.


The combined weight of such a massive amount of water along 600 kilometres of the dam reservoir is huge.


Some geologists say that the downward pressure from the weight of water is causing the Earth’s crust to collapse, pulling the surrounding mountains in.


Human cost


A landslide in November crushed a
passing bus and left 33 dead

The human cost is now becoming increasingly evident.


Last month 33 people died when the road along which they were travelling collapsed into the river.


It was only after digging through the rubble for several days that rescuers found a bus containing 27 of the victims.


The dam project is not due to be completed until 2009, and with the waters in the reservoir continuing to rise the outlook is not good.


Professor Lei Heng Xun, a geologist at Chongqing University, says the risk of further accidents remains.


“Can you guarantee now that at any time there will be no landslides at any place along the river? No, you can’t.”


All of which is bad news for the Xiong family. They may think it can’t get any worse, but it easily could.

Source: Al Jazeera


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