Upon its completion in 2009, many people, particularly the Chinese government, feel that the Three Gorges Dam will be the eight wonder of the world. The Three Gorges Dam, which is currently being constructed on the Yangtze River will be the world’s largest hydroelectric power generator and will in fact be large enough to be seen from outer space.

The Yangtze River is the third largest river in the world, earning it its Chinese name, Chang-chiang, which means "long river." The river has over 30 industrial cities along its coast, provides about 70% of the inland water transportation, and runs through more than 25% of the agricultural farmlands and supports about a third of the population in the country.

There has been tremendous protest in other parts of the world regarding the construction of the dam. Opposition in China are imprisoned and most now refuse to speak up since the decision has already been made by the People’s Congress.

Major Relocations

The world's largest dam will flood over 62,000 acres of farmland, 13 major cities, 140 large, and hundreds of small villages along the river's banks, necessitating the evacuation and relocation of over one million people. It will also "desecrate some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the planet, and drown thousands of archaeological and cultural sites," writes Arthur Fisher in Popular Science.

The Chinese government is adamant about the fact that people will be better off in the resettlement. Click here for the website of the Chinese Embassay in the United States proudly defending the Dam. However, the Chinese government do not take into consideration the way in which their lifestyles will be affected, the scenery around them, their old infrastructure, etc.

Another major problem is lack of land: many farmers will now be without cultivatable land to grow their crops. Although better wages are one of the Chinese government's promises to those being relocated, they ignore the fact that these people will then have to adapt to new ways of life and new forms of employment. The dense population which the relocation creates makes it impossible to find even an inch of farmland for these people. "Dam related relocation affects society in three ways: an economic disaster, human trauma, and social catastrophe", states Dr. Michael Cernea of the World Bank and Dr. Thayer Scudder, Professor of California Institutes of Technology

Three Gorges dam construction, July 1999

Map showing major historic landmarks which will be lost (www.chinavista.com)

Environmental Issues

There are numerous concerns about the environmental impacts of the Three Gorges Dam. A major concern is the issue of the dam's reservoir becoming a cesspool of contaminants and waste. According to a CNN article, one billion tons of sewage will flow into the reservoir each year. Pollution in the river itself will increase, as the dam will slow waterflow, stopping the river’s natural cleaning mechanisms. Chongqing (one of the most populated city in China which locates on the upper reach of the river) and many other cities along the river will flush tremendous amount of sewage and toxic wastes into the reservoir, pollution with slower-moving water will threaten wildlife that depend on the river.

Although Chinese scientists are looking into ways to save the endangered Yangtze River dolphins, there is little money to put towards other species. While the fish population in the Yangtze River is currently quite abundant, the Three Gorges Dam will significantly reduce the flow velocity and aggregate siltation in the reservoir, drastically changing the natural habitat and biological activity, to which some species may be unable to adapt. Fish migration the river would also be stopped by the dam.

Other Issues

There have been several human rights concerns with the dam, namely the suppression of opposition by the Chinese government, including the actual arrest and imprisonment of political activists opposed to the dam’s construction (click here to read the Human Rights Watch's article).

The suppression of information by the Chinese government has led to disaster in the past: in 1975 a collapsed Chinese dam was the largest known dam disaster in human history. Should this happen to the Three Gorges dam it would certainly be one of the biggest disasters ever to occur in world history.

Other problems that have been plaguing the dam are incidents of corruption with the dam officials, as last May over $930 million of state funds set for the dam went missing - also executives in charge of the dam have been charged with buying 20 year old parts instead of new dam parts in order to embezzle money for themselves. Should these accusations prove true it could lead to disaster!

Paradise Lost?

Currently, the Yangtze river is a breathtaking collection of cliffs and mountains. Coffins hang in caves high up on the mountain cliffs, ancient writings cover the walls, and beautiful natural scenery abounds - all the be submersed by the dam reservoir. Due to the remoteness and underdevelopment of the Three Gorges area, little has been done to protect and excavate the roughly 1208 cultural relics which the dam reservoir will obliterate.

Links about the Three Gorges Dam and the Yangtze River

Chronology leading up to the dam's construction

Photos of the Yangtze River

PBS Newshour Transcript about the construction of the Three Gorges Dam

Websites protesting the construction of the Three Gorges Dam

STOP the construction of the Three Gorges Dam!

Stop Three Gorges Dam Devastation

Switzerland: Activists protest Three Gorges Dam

Probe International's Three Gorges Dam Campaign