Reservoir Refugees and the Three Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

And towns where millions of resettled villagers and farmers have been located have no choice but to accept already overcrowded conditions, and job and housing shortages.

Because of the many dams, those farmlands located close to the estuary will be rendered useless due to the lower than usual flow of the river. This will occur because salt water will intrude during dry seasons, ruining the land for growing crops (Hsu, n.d.).

Sedimentation will affect fisheries downstream from Three Gorges Dam, while the reservoir behind the dam will affect those in the middle stretches of the Yangtze by slowing the flow of water. This changes the fish habitats and results in a drop in fishing productivity. The dam will also trap 75% of the nutrient-rich sediments which are usually used as fertilizer for fisheries and agriculture resulting in additional losses to fishing and agricultural production.

Even tourism will be affected, at least for this local area. Extremely rich in scenery, and with many archaeological sites, it is estimated that numerous temples, historical sites and evidence of human habitation dating back to the Paleolithic Age, along with 800 cultural relic sites, will all be submerged and lost. The negative impact to local tourism and the resultant income that local residents might gain from it, is significant (Hsu, n.d.).

Numerous factories will also be lost. No one can really state how significant the loss will be to China's economic growth -- perhaps minimal and perhaps not. Relocation of those factories would be very costly to the government. And the many coal and metal mines located in the area of the reservoir, and worth millions of dollars will be submerged along with numerous transportation avenues such as highways and roadways. All of this would have to be rebuilt if the factories are relocated.

Finally, though profit-making is one of the stated reasons for the push for hydropower in China, the total benefits from Three Gorges Dam, at $80 billion dollars (U.S.), will not compensate for the costs of construction for a very long time. Economic sustainability, at this huge cost, cannot be maintained. The profit is out of the project (Min, n.d.).

Man-Made Disaster?

According to the sources read to pursue the research for this paper, two types of man-made disaster are of major concern to all but the central Chinese government officials -- dam safety and disregard for human rights.

A man-made disaster is generally defined as any event, except enemy action, resulting from man-made causes, that threatens or damages property, causes human suffering or results in loss of life. Negligence is often thought of as a necessary part of this definition, but that negligence may be either intentional or just plain human stupidity, to put it bluntly. In the case of Three Gorges Dam, it appears to be both.

Qing, et al., (1998) point out in their book that, though meticulously planned technically, the potential disaster of Three Gorges is caused by a conscious failure of China's leaders to "control" their behavior (Qing, Williams, International, & Network, 1998). Their failure to understand key Chinese concepts such as self-restraint and the control of "brazen arrogance" could lead to disaster. What they have not considered is that they will not be able to control the dam's effects on the environment and on society as we have pointed out already in our discussion of the social and economic impacts of the project.

It is true that most of what the authors predicted in the mid-to-late nineties has come true regarding the impacts of the dam. The Chinese leadership lost sight of a fundamental Chinese philosophy of balance, between humankind and nature. "Each decision made has caused significant damage to the country's environment and natural resources" (Qing et al., 1998, p. 10).

In May, 2008, a massive 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan province caused 70,000 deaths and left five million Chinese homeless. Today, Chinese scientists say that pressure from the Zipingku Dam reservoir, weighing on geologic fault lines, may have helped trigger that quake. Human activity, the scientists say, played a role in that disaster. The dam was built 550 yards from the fault line and was cracked to such an extent that the reservoir behind the dam is being drained.

Scientists and geologists claim the quake would have occurred with or without the dam, but that the 315 million pounds of pressure from the water in the reservoir "likely" affected the timing and magnitude of the quake, and, according to one of the chief engineers, "created a more violent quake" (Associated Press, 2009).

The Three Gorges Dam is situated near six active fault lines and above 15 million people. A dam burst at Three Gorges would, says engineer Philip Williams, president of the San Francisco-based International Rivers Network, "rank as one of history's worst man-made disasters." An international team of engineers, who assessed Three Gorges said, "the chosen approach to the design and implementation of the coffer dam appears to us to indicate a surprisingly cavalier attitude to risk." According to the team of engineers, major cracks have developed in the dam, and even after extensive repairs, the cracks have reappeared (The Three Gorges Dam: Part IV, will it work?, 2003). Farmers living near the dam's reservoir speak of tremors only since the dam was completed, that have left their homes with cracks in the walls. A landslide in Badong County in Hubei Province, along the reservoir, killed more than 30 people, buried alive in a bus.

Though experts and engineers hurried to check the safety of the Three Gorges Dam after the massive quake that cracked Zipingku Dam and found it safe, in light of all this data, was it enough? Perhaps our discussion about Chinese leadership's arrogance and ignorance of Chinese beliefs about the balance of nature and humanity comes into play here. Why not check the safety of the dam and other environmental issues for the local region before Three Gorges was built. That action did not seem to have the same urgency for a country rushing as fast as it can towards economic development with no thought to much else.

Displacing Millions More

While resettling the original number of approximately 1.3 million inhabitants has led to unbelievable hardships on the population, it is the announcement that perhaps four million more citizens of China will have to be relocated that also places humankind into the category of victim of a potential "man-made disaster."

Over the next 10 to 15 years, these additional millions will be removed from northeast and southwest Chongqing and resettled in the outlying areas of Chongqing city. Chinese government officials insist, for whatever reason, that these relocations are not related to the dam, but rather "a part of a national experiment in economic reform." The main concern seems to be the ecological and geological impact of overpopulation along the reservoir's edge (Gleick, 2007). "Environmental capacity" was eventually given as the direct cause of the additional displacements. Erosion and water pollution seem to be the main issues caused by felling trees to create farmland which allows additional silt into the river already burdened with it. And water pollution is due to the industrial and residential dumping of waste water into the Yangtze. It seems that geologists and scientists believe that when the river flow slows, the reservoir will essentially become a giant cesspool. (Heggelund, 2004, p.86) That cesspool of raw sewage and industrial chemicals will back into Chongqing -- where many of those displaced from their homes along the reservoir have been resettled (Reuters 2, 2007).

It is already known that the majority of those who have been resettled of the original 1.5 million or so ended up poorer, with less food supplies, fewer and lower paying jobs, and some even landless as well as socially marginalized, experts fear the results. To add to the problems, farmland and jobs were taken from those already living in the resettled area which causes conflict. Women are the most severely impacted by these issues and are the most likely to become impoverished (Gleick, 2007).

It is now known that thousands of displaced citizens displaced from the Three Gorges Dam reservoir area have now migrated back because of the lack of jobs, food, and compensation in their newly resettled areas.

Needless to say, the potential for a "man-made human disaster" in China, is enormous and, probably, already in progress. But, unlike deaths from an earthquake, tsunami, or other violent natural occurrence, the general public may never hear of the enormity of the disaster. Citizens of a country will be forced from their homes and lands. Many will perish, others will spend a gypsy-like life wandering in an attempt to find jobs and food. Children will go hungry and without schooling. And, eventually, the significance of it will quietly fade away.

Public Health Issues

Involuntary relocation is an incredibly stressful situation. It causes people to make very painful decisions, sacrifices, and adjustments that often lead to both mental and physical health problems that…

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