It's progress; who cares about people?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2012, 12:00am



Villagers in Yunnan and Sichuan , who are being moved to make way for two massive dams have been told by local governments to hand over 30,720 yuan (HK$37,620) per head from the compensation they received for the loss of their homes and farmland. And some who do not get that much compensation have been warned they may have to dip into their own pockets to make up the difference.

The Xiangjia Dam is being built on the Jinsha River on the mountainous border between Sichuan and Yunnan, about 33 kilometres upstream from the city of Yibin , and the Xiluodu Dam is being built 160 kilometres farther upstream. They are the country's largest dams after the Three Gorges Dam.

The homes of at least 125,000 people in six Yunnan and Sichuan counties will be flooded by the rising waters behind the Xiangjia Dam, starting from next month.

Local authorities, who have been struggling to make the deadline to resettle thousands of families, insist that the 'mandatory compensation deduction', to be paid back at the monthly rate of 160 yuan per person for the next 16 years, will help people better manage their money, but locals are not convinced.


As nations industrialise, they need power and water, which usually take the form of hydroelectric power. This brings its own problems; people have to be resettled, massive dam walls have to be constructed and people, plants and animals living downstream from the dam go without water, often for long periods. One of the thorniest issues is relocating people, and this is where the Xiangjia Dam is in trouble.

Not enough money

Area residents live on fertile farmland famous for its mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper. They don't think the amount the government will pay is enough to cover their relocation. There is nowhere for them to go. Mostly, when people are resettled, they are offered housing in another area and are helped to move. But this has not happened.

Confusing policy

Yongshan county officials and the village's Communist Party chief, Lei Shibin , admit that most Huangguo villagers may get no compensation for their small but profitable farms because of the controversial deduction policy.

Indeed, some may have to dip into their own pockets to make up the difference between the limited compensation they do receive and the mandatory deduction, Lei said.

Some county officials said the central and provincial governments would make up the difference, but villagers don't believe them.

Local officials have said poor grass-roots governments need the deducted money to cover the shortfall in resettlement funding, according to reports by Caijing magazine and other media.

Local residents and even county government officials have complained about confusing resettlement compensation policies, which they say are deliberately vague, often contradictory and vary from one dam project to another as well as one county to another.

To make matters worse, those policies, including the standards proposed by China Three Gorges Corporation, have yet to be approved by the central government, say local officials.

Liu Shiwei, deputy director of Yongshan county's relocation bureau, is bitter about the delays.

'It's really hard to persuade our countrymen, as we don't even know what the policies over compensation and long-term economic support will look like,' he says.

Poverty relief

The Xiangjia Dam, 33km upstream from Yibin, Sichuan, is due to begin filling with water next month and to start generating power in October, Xinhua reports.

With a capacity of 6GW, the dam is the country's third largest, after the Three Gorges Dam and the Xiluodu Dam, which is being built about 160 kilometres upstream on the Jinsha. The two projects have been touted for years as shortcuts to eradicating the widespread poverty in one of the country's least developed areas.

The building of the two dams, with a combined capacity of 19.86GW - more than the 18.2GW of the Three Gorges Dam - underlines Beijing's renewed determination to accelerate dam construction despite intense public opposition.

Lack of trust

In Yongshan county, near the tail of the Xiangjia Dam reservoir and the location of the Xiluodu Dam, many of Yunnan villager Li Dongmin's neighbours have, like him, refused to back down.

Deng Shiqiang , 36, says at least seven people from Yuansheng village were detained last year after residents tried to block main roads in protest against illegal land seizures for 'resettlement'.

Deng and his wife were taken away for 10 days. He says it was punishment after they exposed local cadres who sought personal gain in the resettlement scheme by gobbling up large chunks of farmland from other villagers.

'The authorities refused to look into our complaints or heed our concerns about the future,' Deng says. 'Instead, they resorted to intimidation and beat and arrested those of us who dared to speak out.'

Yang Mingjin , 57, who was arrested with his wife last year, also told of being beaten by police.


Yunnan villager Li Dongmin knew that trouble could lie ahead for people evicted for the Xiangjia Dam as the deadline for relocation approached. Even so, he was shocked and angry when more than two dozen local government officials descended on his home on May 16 with orders to have it torn down immediately.

Scores of neighbours in the mountainside village of Yuansheng, population 420, in Huixi town, Yongshan county, quickly converged on the scene to show their support. But they were kept at bay by a dozen armed paramilitary police as well as a bulldozer, an excavator and dump trucks.

'I have never felt so terrible and helpless in my life,' Li said. 'My wife and granddaughter were crying in fear, and my heart sank in disbelief and despair at such intimidation.'

Li, 44, whose sparsely furnished, two-storey brick house sat atop a ridge overlooking a deep valley of the roaring Jinsha River (which eventually forms the Yangtze River), was among the first in his village to be moved to make way for the dam, being built on the mountainous border with Sichuan province.

Like his fellow villagers, Li was reluctant to move, citing a lack of compensation, unhelpful local cadres and fears of a grim future after losing his home and once-fertile farmland to the waters impounded by a 162-metre-high concrete dam.

'But what else could we do, apart from follow their orders and vacate my home, after they threatened to pull it down?' Li asked. 'The authorities are too powerful for us ordinary folks to fight, and I don't have the nerve to stand up to them.'

Li has yet to get any of the compensation promised by local officials, and he, his wife and their 14-month-old granddaughter have had to move into a makeshift tent of plastic sheeting. 'We know it is not safe to dwell in the tent as the rainy season approaches,' he said. 'But we have been made homeless and destitute. Where else can we go?'

Like many people, Li 's biggest concern at the moment is where to find shelter. He does, however, consider himself lucky because he was able to salvage the bed, clothes and cooking utensils from his home before it was torn down.

He said at least three homes in the neighbouring community of Caojiaba had been demolished by a squad sent by the Huixi government after homeowners refused to leave.

Li has yet to find a place to rebuild his home, with local officials refusing to help and saying that it is something he will have to organise himself. But when he approached officials with a list of relocation sites, they rejected all of them, saying they failed to conform with unspecified rules.

'I still don't know where I can build a new house or how long I'll live in the tent,' he said.


I really don't know how I am going to survive if my farmland, my only source of income, is to be flooded. The current [compensation] standards are simply too low to make a living.

Yuansheng villager, Wang Tianlian, a 72-year-old blind widow, is 'desperately worried' about the future.

We are not opposed to the dam project itself, but how can they [local authorities] treat us like trash and force us to move? What they said is really scary. They also warned they could take us away and accuse those who refuse to go of blocking a national project.

Zhou Daixiu, 81, from Dukou village, after local cadres had threatened to use bulldozers and armed troops to flush locals out of their homes if they refused to leave by the resettlement deadline.

Officials say I won't get the first 20 per cent of the compensation for my old house and cropland until I begin to build the new house. But how can I afford to build a new house without any compensation? The cadres are quite intimidating, and I often worry about losing my compensation once and for all if I offend them, whether intentionally or not.

Villager Li Dongmin, who is too afraid to ask local cadres about resettlement compensation.

This is an edited version of articles by Shi Jiangtao, which appeared in Thursday's editions of the South China Morning Post.