Six Years On, Counting Costs of China's Three Gorges Dam

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The Three Gorges Dam was built, in part, to help end the flooding of the Yangtze. It was also intended to allow convenient movement of goods and people, and to provide cheap, non-polluting power.

Yet according to some observers inside China and overseas, the project has failed to materialize these benefits since being finished in 2006. They say it's replaced the disasters of unpredictable flooding with an all-too-predictable washing away of countless towns and settlements on the banks of the Yangtze River.

Meanwhile, the estimated $50 billion USD that the dam cost has, by most measures, a long way to go before being seen as ultimately profitable.

In early July, Ma Tianxin, who lived in a town iin Hubei Province along the Yangtze River, was forced to flee with his family after a landslide tore cracks through the walls of his house and spoiled his farmland.

Now the deep fissure running through the family's former home is just one more sign of the potential disaster looming for those living along the river.

The landslides were exacerbated by the Three Gorges' reservoir behind the dam, says Chen Zhongshun, an independent environmental protection advocate.

[Chen Zhongshun, Environmental Protection Advocate]:
"The reservoir construction has weakened the mountain slopes. Many cities along the Yangtze River are built on those mountain slopes. People cannot settle down if the mountains are not stable. They worry every day. How long can that kind of life last? It is not safe for them to live there. The area surrounding the dam is very prone to landslides."

It's expected that continuing ecological dangers will mean that 100,000 people have to move from Hubei and the city of Chongqing in the next three to five years. This is in addition to the 1.3 million who were originally displaced to make way for the dam and reservoir.

In the town of Huangtupo, for instance, many residents are awaiting a government directive on resettlement. Some complained they have not been offered any arrangement.

[Song Weixue, Huangtupo Resident]:
"We moved here in 2002, but in 2008, some geological experts found a high risk of landslides in Huangtupo and in areas around the reservoir, so they want us to move again. But so far, the government hasn't made any arrangements for our housing."

Given the widespread belief here that Huangtupo will never be safe again, local authorities constructed a new town, Shennongxi, several kilometers away. But according to many relocated villagers, there is simply no replacing the lost harvests—and communities—that the dam has left behind.

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