Critics Urge China to Consult on Dam Plan
Chinese and foreign opponents of dam say vast project must include assessment of human costs of resettlement
IN what is the first step of an enormous project, China is resettling some of the 1.1 million people whose homes are in the way of plans for the world's largest dam.The undertaking involves convincing workers to leave cities and peasants to leave ancestral homes, turning steep, infertile hills into farmland, and building factories and dwellings high above the Yangtze River. But officials cannot use the threat of natural floods to goad residents from their homes. Settlements at the Three Gorges on the Yangtze, the site of the proposed dam, have been comparatively untouched by the flooding that has killed more than 1,500 people this month. Still, officials have already moved 40,000 people, even though the government has yet to approve the dam's construction. The settlers have been relocated to work on 8,235 acres of rice paddies, citrus orchards, and tea plantations hewed out of hillsides. The area is equal to almost half of the farmland that would be flooded by the dam's reservoir, officials say. Evacuees involved in smaller resettlements elsewhere in China have greatly suffered because of poor planning and insufficient funding for the resettlement programs, officials acknowledge. Some residents of Maoping and Sandouping, the sites of the proposed dam, expressed mixed feelings in interviews with the Monitor over their resettlement. Many residents say they will voluntarily abandon their homes because the government promises them a better life on higher ground. But an outspoken minority opposes the move. "The government will force us out and make us live a life in exile," says Wang Yunnan, who grows mandarin oranges in Maoping. Popular resentment and the high cost of moving people make the dam wasteful and unfeasible, say some Chinese and foreign opponents of the dam. About $1 out of every $3 of the dam's $10.8 billion cost would go toward resettlement.Skip to next paragraph
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No use protesting "If the government decides to build the dam and you don't agree to move, you can't do anything about it," according to Mrs. Wang. She dreads the prospect of surrendering her family's ancestral home and small grove of fruit trees to the rising water. "It really doesn't matter what I think; there's no point in resisting," Wang says. The government acknowledges that it has begun the resettlement without consulting people in the gorges. Consequently, China's leaders are debating whether to begin the 18-year dam construction without an assessment of the human cost. "Consultations with people to be resettled are vital if you want to carry out a successful ... resettlement plan," says William Partridge, an anthropologist at the World Bank. But Wang Jiazhu, chief engineer of the dam, says, "It's out of the question to ask people if they want to be moved or to consult with them." "The decision to build the Three Gorges dam was made seven years ago and so every one has known that they must move," says Mr. Wang of the Yangtze Valley Planning Office (YVPO). In 1984, China's leaders made the latest of several decisions to build the controversial dam over the past three decades. People who refuse to give way to the man-made flood will eventually be compelled to do so, says Zheng Ping, a Maoping official. "Every villager will make a sacrifice for the country and persuasion will surely work," Mr. Zheng says. Most officials claim that people in the gorges overwhelmingly welcome the dam. "If you tour the prefectures, counties, and cities around the reservoir site, you'll find that all the people support the Three Gorges project," says Guo Shuyan, governor of Hubei Province and a leading dam-booster. Dam builders must convince foreign lenders that their resettlement program is popular and generous in order to secure critical overseas aid, Chinese and foreign observers say. Officials behind the project raised annual spending on resettlement 150 percent this year to $9.4 million. By next year the officials would have spent a total of $32 million on 74 resettlement "pilot projects," according to the YVPO. This year they will move 10,000 people, raising the total number of resettled residents to 50,000, according to the official China Development News. Officials also completed a highway and bridge to the dam site last August. They have taken measurements of homes in Sandouping as part of a compensation plan and constructed three large apartment houses there for the dam's engineers. The 607-foot-high dam is designed to control flooding, generate electricity, and aid shipping. It would hold back a reservoir 372 miles long and less than a mile wide which would inundate 326 cities and villages.