People and Politics of the Three Gorges Dam

Nature Facts

Where: Yangzi River, Three Gorges, Sichuan, China
Event: Building of an epic dam
Loss: Displacement of over a million tribes and ancestral homes, ancient archeological sites and loss of nature and farmlands and potential risk of water contamination
Gain: Saving lives, preventing floodings and providing 1/9 of China’s energy

One of the most controversial construction projects in China, if not the world, is the 500ft long, 600-ft deep Three Gorges Dam planned for installation on the upper Yangzi River running through the Sichuan Province of China. The dam sparks unlimited controversy due to the necessary displacement of over 1.2 million people and to the effects of the rising water, which will submerge the natural beauty and archaeologsical treasures of the Three Gorges area.

Taming the Beast

The Chinese government has mulled over the Three Gorges Dam project ever since the days ofSun Yat-sen (1911 Revolutionary), who believed the river Yangzi needed to be tamed in some fashion. The current government sees this program as a symbol that China has emerged into the 21st century and is ready to compete as a modern and industrial superpower. With this monumental construction, they hope to eradicate several major national problems by providing a future source of energy for China’s unlimited growing needs, taming the flood-prone Yangtzi saving lives and opening up the inner provinces of China to international trade and investment.

Many sceptics look at these supposed benefits and quickly throw up the counter argument of all the environmental and social problems that this dam will create.

Politics and Environment

Allegations of corruption amongst the officials involved in the dam project and runaway costs may lead to not so sound construction of the dam itself. In areas that are to be flooded, many toxic waste sites exist and little attempt has been made the clear these areas before the water comes rushing through. These toxic chemicals, along with sewage runoff form local villages could lead to a large-scale contamination of the major water source of China.

Loss and Displacement

Perhaps the biggest controversy remains the social and archaeological consequences of building a dam in the area. Over 100 villages will have to be relocated and millions of acres of fertile farmland will be lost. The soon to be displaced families have lived in the same village for centuries and will now have to exchange their ancestral homes for poorly built apartment blocks in a completely new location. The new farmland above the water line will not be as fertile as the land surrounding the river delta. The Three Gorges area is also home to over 1000 archaeological sites, some pertaining to civilizations thousands of years old. These finds will be submerged instantly and most likely swept away with the rest of the silt in the river.

Both positive and negative arguments aside, the dam project is going ahead with 20,000 workers building 24 hours a day. By providing China with over 1/9th of its energy consumption by 2009, China claims the environmental benefits of the dam far outweigh the environmental loss due to the construction.

More Information

Three Gorges Probe
Up to date news on the probe into the Three Gorges Dam project.

Chinese Embassy
Chinese View on the Three Gorges Project

By Amy Jurries