Damning Words On Three Gorges

Official China has repeatedly brushed off the environmental-damage warnings of critics of its showpiece Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric project. Which makes it remarkable that a senior official has said the dam threatens to become an environmental catastrophe, and that the remarks have been carried in state media.

Landslides, silting, and erosion above the dam are creating environmental and safety hazards that cannot be ignored, Wang Xiaofeng, director of the State Council Three Gorges Construction Committee, was quoted as telling a two-day forum held in Wuhan on Tuesday. “We cannot exchange environmental destruction for short-term economic gain,” he said.

Environmental scientist Weng Lida, secretary general of the Yangtze River Forum, was quoted as saying, “We thought of all the possible issues. But the problems are all more serious than we expected.”

Fifteen years in the building so far, the dam is already producing much needed electricity and will have the capacity to generate 18,000 megawatts once completed in 2009. 

Wang’s words resonate with those of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao who have repeatedly stressed the need to balance economic and social development. Protests over environmental issues, particularly the poor quality of water and air, are becoming more common.

The dam was started during the time of Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, whose influence is being systematically flushed out. As the FT notes, “The unusual criticism of such a symbolic project could be politically motivated in the lead-up to the 17th Communist Party Congress”. 

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