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China Mishandled 3 Gorges Dam, Study Says

by Jim Lobe

Mammoth China Dam Project Called Risky, Destructive (1997)
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people to make way for China's controversial Three Gorges Dam project has been marked by inadequate compensation, abuses of human rights and widespread corruption, says a report released in January.

The report, by the California-based International Rivers Network (IRN), is based on an on-site investigation by IRN in cooperation with a group that monitors the Canadian government's major export credit agency, which is helping fund the project.

It concludes that people resettled by the project are left essentially to fend for themselves often in unfamiliar areas with little or no help from the government.

More than 1.2 million people, and, according to some estimates, up to 1.9 million, are supposed to be resettled before the historic Yangtze Valley is submerged upriver from the dam, the world's largest hydroelectric power project.

The reservoir is scheduled to begin rising in April, reaching a depth of 135 meters by June and stretching 500 kilometers upstream to Chongqing, planned as the industrial center of inland China.

As a result, efforts to resettle people from the area that will be submerged have intensified, raising tensions between the authorities responsible for the dam construction and local towns and villages that will soon disappear under water.

"We have little confidence that the resettlement issue is being given due consideration," said IRN's Doris Shen, one of the report's authors. "Compensation and resettlement for those losing their homes and livelihoods are a big mess."

A dream of China's leaders for more than 80 years, the Three Gorges Dam, with a planned capacity of 18,200 megawatts, is expected to provide power to tens of millions of households, make the river more navigable, even for ocean-going vessels, and control the flooding that has bedeviled the Yangtze Valley for hundreds of years.

But the project has been opposed by environmentalists and many scientists who say it will render extinct flora and fauna that are unique to the river, transform the new reservoir into a cesspool, and reduce fertility of the floodplain downriver.

Archaeologists have also protested against the scheme, noting that centuries-old monasteries and other historic, religious, and cultural shrines and landmarks will be lost forever as the reservoir is filled.

But the most controversial aspect of the project, aside from its price tag of at least $30 billion, is the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people who are being uprooted.

IRN's 32-page Human Rights Dammed Off at the Three Gorges, based on scores of interviews with people in five of the areas that are most affected by resettlement, found that compensation to 'resettlers' has fallen short of the replacement cost for their property. Most are now forced to buy housing that costs far more than the compensation they have been offered, it says.

In addition, the land and jobs that have been promised to resettlers from rural and urban areas are no longer available.

Where land has been offered, it has turned out to be of inferior quality, and, of the almost 600,000 people resettled so far, more than 100,000 have been forced to leave the Three Gorges area altogether, adds the report.

Also, local authorities appear to have diverted a large part of the resettlement budget into unrelated projects, such as hotels, roads, and other infrastructure.

"There is a widespread belief that local officials have used the project as an opportunity to fill their own pockets," the report notes, adding that many cases of embezzlement by local authorities have already been documented.

Adding to the problems and growing tension in the area is the fact that the government has failed to set up an independent mechanism to consider grievances by those who are resettled. As a result, people feel they have no recourse other than public protest, which has lead to a series of incidents in which police used "excessive force" against local demonstrators, and countless individuals have been thrown in jail or prison.

People who have refused to leave their homes, called "nail households," have been forcibly removed by security officers. In many cases, they have been beaten and their homes burnt down by police.

These problems have not only embarrassed the Chinese government, which has considered the Three Gorges Dam its most important development project in the past two decades. They have also put pressure on export credit agencies (ECAs) like Export Development Canada (EDC), which helped finance the construction.

Besides EDC, the ECAs of Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Brazil have provided more than $1.4 billion in financing, most for the purchase of equipment produced by their own construction and hydroelectric firms.

The World Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) were also approached for financing, but decided against participating, largely because of the possible environmental and social consequences.

"The export credit agencies, and the governments that back them, are responsible for the impacts of the Three Gorges Dam, including the resettlement problems and human rights violations," said Fraser Reilly-King, coordinator of the NGO Working Group on the EDC. "And Canada is involved."

IRN called on all governments with a stake in the project to press Beijing to take measures to mitigate the impact of the project, including ensuring that resettlers receive adequate compensation according to international standards, which provide that those who are forcibly displaced should be able to improve or at least regain their former standard of living.

It also called for the creation of an independent grievance mechanism so that affected people could seek redress in ways other than public protest, which has ended too frequently in arrests and violence. People who have been put in prison for protesting against the resettlement should be released, the report says.

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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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