100b yuan outlay to cope with dam impact

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am

Beijing plans to spend nearly 100 billion yuan (HK$113 billion) in the next decade to cope with the enormous social and environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam, with landslide repairs, pollution cleanups and efforts to lift a stagnant economy listed as top priorities.

Although the plan is still being drafted, it is expected from next year to meet many 'unexpected' challenges stemming from the rising waters behind the 185-metre-high concrete dam, according to Wang Xiaofeng, a top official in charge of the project.

Mr Wang, director of the State Council's Three Gorges Project Construction Committee's executive office, said the world's largest hydropower project was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

'There is still a lot of work to finish, and it is unlikely we will have an official ceremony marking the completion of the project this year,' he said in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post.

Apart from the Three Gorges reservoir region, Mr Wang said, the new plan would also cover the middle reaches of the Yangtze River - including lakes Dongting and Poyang, which have been adversely affected by the project - for the next 10 to 20 years.

With water levels reaching the reservoir's maximum of 175 metres above sea level last year, the dam area recorded a sharp rise in often deadly landsides, minor earthquakes, pollution disasters and other hazards.

At least 98.9 billion yuan would be needed by 2020 for the Three Gorges project, said a Caijing website report, citing the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, which is drafting the plan.

Of the total investment, 38.2 billion yuan has been earmarked to tackle environmental problems, such as waste and sewage treatment.

But it did not specify how much would be spent to tackle geological hazards and complete the controversial resettlement scheme of millions of people.

Over the past decade, most of the 1.4 million people displaced by the project from 20 cities and counties in Chongqing and Hubei have been sent to either higher ground nearby or different locations across the country. But the task of helping people to adjust to their new lives remains a headache for authorities.

Despite Beijing's announcement that the dam, officially billed at 200 billion yuan and widely seen as the country's top prestige project of the past three decades, was 'basically completed' in 2007, mainland officials have publicly expressed concerns that the mammoth project could turn into a catastrophe.

Environmentalists opposed the plan, saying the government had yet to explain why the project had become an abyss of public funding.

Dai Qing, a writer and fierce critic of the project, said the money would never be enough to solve the problems created by the reservoir.