The Three Gorges Dam Project

Social Impacts

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About 1.3 – 1.9 million people were forced to move from their homes along the Yangtze River due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. There are inconsistencies as to how many people were resettled, which means that there was inadequate information and thus funding for resettlement. Peasants account for 87.3% of people who live in the reservoir area, and are mostly uneducated. Estimates state that 140 cities, about 1,000 villages, two cities, and 100,000 acres of fertile farmland will be inundated by the reservoir. The Chinese government is using a ‘development type resettlement’ plan, which includes developing the economy and related infrastructure in the area around the reservoir. This process is to guarantee that the employment rates and living standards are sufficient. Ways to assure this is to open new land for agriculture, improve the quality of existing land, and to establish new business opportunities in the area. A number of concerns are raised when looking at the issue of relocation.

Demolition in Guizhou, located in Hubei Province. Courtesy of International River Network.

The way in which the Chinese government compensates people forced to move is called the “lump sum” method. This method grants people the total net worth of their home and land, according to criteria put in place by the government. This method does not always mean equal and effective resettlement. For example, the people may be forced to buy homes at a higher price than the amount of money they were given for compensation. In this relocation project, there was only enough land to give 125,000 farmers or farming families, much of the land less fertile than the land to be inundated. This means a shift in the commodity being grown. Many farmers switched to planting citrus fruits, or other value added products. The 100,000 acres of fertile farmland to be flooded yields 10% of China’s annual grain, 50% of which is rice. The thousands of others who were not able to receive new land as part of their compensation were trained for jobs in cities. Since the number of people being relocated is so high, the odds that the peoples’ livelihoods can be reestablished is low.

There have been some issues of corruption in the procedures for relocation. Since the Three Gorges Dam and related infrastructure projects are such a large scale venture, it is easier for funds allocated for resettlement to be embezzled and spent elsewhere. Many Chinese were not given adequate compensation for their land. Also, since the number of Chinese to be relocated might have been underestimated, equal funds may not exist.

Man sitting on building ruins. Courtesy of International River Network.

A number of cultural and archeological sites will be lost when the reservoir reaches its full depth. These sites are valuable because they are a way to document the nations past. Some sites also hold religious significance. The Chinese government did set aside funds to protect the sites and artifacts that could be saved. However, due to the time constraints and shortage of capable personnel, some of these artifacts may not have been saved or preserved correctly.

The Three Gorges Dam, despite some negative impacts on nearby affected society, does offer the positive benefit of flood control. Before construction of the dam began, the river was maintained a ten year flood interval by modern technology. With the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, that flood interval is increased to one-hundred years. This means that many more lives will be saved, since in the past, the frequency of the Yangtze River flooding has claimed thousands of lives. The presence of the dam indicates less flooding downstream and thus less negative impacts on society.

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