Beijing vows it will overcome 'issues' at dam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am


Beijing approved a comprehensive plan yesterday to cope with enormous challenges that have arisen from the controversial Three Gorges Dam, amid widespread concerns over its unfolding environmental and social impacts.

The long-expected plan, which will be implemented over the next decade, was adopted at a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao .

In a brief statement issued by Xinhua, the government said it still faces an uphill battle in dealing with the negative effects of the world's largest dam, considered by many critics to be the mainland's biggest white elephant.

In a rare admission, it also said the government had been warned about many of the grave challenges faced by building the dam, long before its construction, but failed to find solutions over the years, Xinhua said.

'Some of the issues had been predicted during the design and feasibility studies but have had to be dealt with during its operation, while others were spotted during the construction but have yet to be tackled effectively due to limitations,' the statement said.

However, the government put on a brave face, defending the project as necessary for flood control and power generation. Beijing also vowed that it was capable of repairing geological hazards, of cleaning up pollution, of completing the resettlement of 1.4 million people and of addressing a wide range of other urgent issues.

'While the dam project has provided comprehensive benefits, pressing issues involving the smooth relocation and well-being of residents, ecological protection and geological disaster prevention must be tackled urgently, along with [the dam's] impact on navigation, irrigation and water supplies along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River,' it said.

Beijing also promised that all of the people displaced by the gigantic project, from 20 cities and counties in Hubei and Chongqing, would be able to catch up with the average living standards of the two provinces by 2020. No other details of the plan were released.

Beijing announced in 2009 that it planned to spend nearly 100 billion yuan (HK$119.41 billion) in the coming decade to cope with often deadly landsides, minor earthquakes, pollution disasters and other hazards that have arisen as a result of water levels reaching the reservoir's maximum of 175 metres above sea level last year.

But the plan was not received well yesterday by mainland environmentalists, who voiced doubts about the government's ability to avert what they saw as waiting disasters.

'I don't believe the plan can solve any of the problems, given the authorities' poor record in heeding concerns about the project,' said Dai Qing, a critic of the project. Dai was bitter because the project, officially billed at 200 billion yuan, had become an abyss of public funding.

Geologist Fan Xiao, based in Sichuan said many of the measures included in the plan would be difficult to implement because the project has too many conflicting functions.

'We have seen the dilemma since authorities began to fill water in the reservoir behind the 185-metre-high concrete dam,' he said. 'If they want to generate power, then it will be difficult to provide enough water in down-river areas to ensure the safety of transport and water supplies.'


The programme of work on the Three Gorges Dam requires the resettlement of this number of people, which Beijing vowed to complete