Thousands being moved from China's Three Gorges - again
By Sui-Lee Wee
HUANGTUPO, China | Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:59pm EDT
(Reuters) - China relocated 1.3 million people during the 17 years it
took to complete the Three Gorges dam. Even after finishing the $59
billion project last month, the threat of landslides along the dam's
banks will force tens of thousands to move again.
It's a reminder of the social and environmental challenges that have
dogged the world's largest hydroelectric project. While there has been
little protest among residents who will be relocated a second time,
the environmental fallout over other big investments in China has
become a hot-button issue ahead of a leadership transition this year.
In some cases, protests have forced the scrapping of multi-billion
dollar projects. The most recent was on July 28, when Chinese
officials cancelled an industrial waste pipeline after anti-pollution
demonstrators occupied a government office in the eastern city of
Qidong, destroying computers and overturning cars.
"If the government says you have to move, you move," said Shuai
Linxiang, a 57-year-old woman among 20,000 people to be relocated from
Huangtupo, where they were resettled in 1998. "We can't oppose them."
The Three Gorges dam was completed in July when its final turbine
joined the national grid and the facility reached its full capacity of
22.5 gigawatts, more than enough to power Pakistan or Switzerland.
As the dam was being built on the Yangtze River, in central Hubei
province, authorities moved 1.3 million people who lived in what
became its 1,045 sq km (405 sq mile) reservoir, an area greater in
size than Singapore.
Reuters was recently given a rare tour of the 181-metre (600-ft) tall
dam and reservoir. In a sign of how sensitive the fresh relocations
are, plainclothes security men and people who identified themselves as
officials from the "news department" followed Reuters reporters around
the area for three days, hindering interviews by intimidating locals
with their presence.
Since word of the new resettlement has filtered out, Shuai and her
neighbors have become known in China as "Three Gorges' immigrants,
They were moved to Huangtupo in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when
the reservoir began to consume their original town.
Besides 20,000 people in Huangtupo, another 100,000 may be moved in
the next three to five years because of geological risks, Liu Yuan, an
official with the Ministry of Land and Resources in Beijing said in
April, according to state-run China National Radio.
The number of "geological hazards" had risen 70 percent since water
levels in the reservoir reached a maximum of 175 meters (574 ft), he
said, without elaborating, although he was believed to be referring to
landslides. Liu could not be reached for comment.
Landslides in Huangtupo had been exacerbated by changes in water
levels in the reservoir, said Fan Xiao, a geologist for a government-
linked institute in southwestern Sichuan province, who studied
conditions there in 2006.
Dam officials lower water levels by as much as 30 meters during the
summer in anticipation of floods, and raise them in winter. The change
softens the slopes along its banks, Fan said.
"It's like a person who's standing in place, if you push and pull him,
he'll definitely not be as stable as before," he said.
For hundreds of thousands who live on the banks, landslides can wipe
out homes. The government has not given recent statistics of deaths
from landslides but at least 48 people were killed in 2007 across the
area, according to state media.
Three Gorges officials defend the facility and say it has brought
development to an otherwise poor region.
Wang Hai, deputy head of the operations department at the complex,
said the dam did not increase the risk of landslides, which he said
were not unusual along reservoir banks.
"The stability of the reservoir banks is not worse than before," he
told Reuters in an interview.
Besides forced resettlement, the dam has been criticized for its
polluted waters. Hundreds of factories, mines and waste dumps were
submerged over the years and additional urban growth along the
reservoir has caused waste water discharge to double between 2000 and
2005, according to International Rivers, a California-based NGO that
aims to protect rivers.
An island of waste was floating in the dam's brown waters when Reuters
"After the Three Gorges dam was built, the deterioration of the water
quality is very obvious and it is irreversible," said Ai Nanshan, a
professor of environmental sciences at Sichuan University. "The water
flow has slowed down, so its ability to purify itself has deteriorated."
The dam has accelerated development along the reservoir by 50 to 100
years, said Chen Lei, another official in the Three Gorges operations
"If not for the Three Gorges project, their (residents') lives would
be confined as before, deep in the mountains, a relatively backward
state of poverty," he said.
Authorities are building a new town nearby called Shennongxi to house
residents of Huangtupo.
Shuai was among the first to move to one of the many seven-storey
apartment blocks painted in cream, pink and grey colors that stand
amid scorched red earth. If you don't move, we won't care about you,
she said a local official told her last year.
For income, Shuai sells groceries from her apartment. She was given
5,000 yuan ($790) as a "reward" for being among the first to move,
according to a June 2011 government document she showed Reuters; 200
yuan per person in her family and 1,000 yuan in "moving fees".
Officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the
forced relocation and compensation given to residents.
The local government will offer a new apartment and cash as
compensation for resettlement, it said in a December 2009 document
explaining the scheme, without providing details of the amounts.
It will only compensate residents according to the floor area of their
previous apartments, but will not pay extra if the apartment in
Shennongxi is bigger than their previous homes.
Residents who "reject the relocation or delay relocating" or "make
unreasonable demands for compensation again" after being compensated
will receive a warning, the local government said.
Shuai reckons 30 households have moved to Shennongxi. Her grandson,
who attends school in the town, lives away from his entire family
because there's virtually no transport.
"By moving here, we have no way to survive," she said.
In Huangtupo, many residents await the order to resettle.
"The (first) time when we moved, our home, our land, our fruit trees,
they were all finished, they were all drowned by the water," said Li
Huanggui, 94, sitting in her home in the only apartment block left
standing amid demolished buildings.
A shop owner, surnamed Qing, has been told she has to move in the
second half of the year. She relocated the first time in 2000 when
water from the reservoir flooded her home.
Asked if she thought the government would compensate her this time,
"The more we move, the poorer we get," she said. ($1 = 6.3586 Chinese
(Additional reporting by Steve Wang, Hui Li and Beijing Newsroom;
Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Dean Yates and Alex Richardson)
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