ad info

 > magazine
 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
TIME Europe
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


China's Folly
Timebomb at Three Gorges

Troubled Waters

As protests continue over dam-building, a landmark review calls for a reth ink on future projects.

It's China's most formidable engineering feat since the construction of the Great Wall — and the numbers show it. On the drawing board, state planners proudly say that by the time the Three Gorges Dam is fully operational in 2009, it will hold back an artificial lake up to 600 km long, a kilometer across and 175 meters deep. The 2,150-meter-wide barrier will stem the mighty Yangzi, generating badly needed electricity, making the world's third-longest river permanently accessible to large vessels and ending forever the flooding that has claimed tens of thousands of lives along its treacherous banks. That, at least, is the theory.

On the ground, the reality is different. Critics argue that the dam is a folly from an environmental, technical and social point of view. On top of that, it is breeding corruption on a scale breathtaking even by Chinese standards, with one manager said to have skimmed off nearly $120 million and sent it overseas. So, will the scheme be dropped or at least scaled back? Not a chance. For the Communist Party, the Three Gorges is a matter of political face, and nothing will be allowed to stand in its way.

The world's largest hydroelectric dam, at an estimated cost of $25 billion, has challenges to match its girth. It calls, for instance, for the resettlement of some 1.2 million people, divided almost equally between rural and urban residents. Officials insist the program is on schedule. Critics say that the project is marred by widespread mismanagement, graft, falsification of relocation figures, inadequate planning and insufficient compensation. China's normally conservative Strategy and Management journal sees a crisis in the making. "The dam site threatens to become a hotbed for chaos throughout the first half of the 21st century," it says. "If resettlement problems continue to accumulate and intensify, when the water begins to flow, those not peacefully settled could turn into an explosive social problem."

Then there is the issue of how well the water will flow. The Yangzi is considered among the world's most-silted rivers, and even government planners acknowledge that special measures will be needed to prevent excessive sedimentation building up at the dam base. These include running off large volumes of silt-laden water during the flood season, from May to September. The fear is that this will cause precisely the kind of surges the dam is designed to end. And will enough water be retained for use during the dry winter months? Yes, say the planners. Others don't agree.

Environmentalists warn that the accumulated silt will raise the reservoir's water level, overwhelming nearby Chongqing's municipal sewage and drainage systems. Slowed from a free-running river to a near-static lake, the Yangzi above the Three Gorges could also become the world's largest septic tank. Respected Chinese ecologist Liang Congjie says there is another, more fundamental problem: The dam is simply too far upstream to harness flood waters from the Yangzi's most troublesome tributaries. "We will be able to control only one third of the [flood] water," he says. It's not too late to reverse the decision on the dam.

With reports by Anne Meijdam

Back to the top

Write to Asiaweek at

This edition's table of contents | Home


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Hong Kong:
A rise in political radicalism is rattling tycoons and the government. Will it damage the territory's business competitiveness?

New Gold Mountain:
Chinese immigrants in the U.S. want to get rich fast in the new economy. It can be done, but it's tough

Getting Religion: The internet is not the spiritual wasteland it appears to be. seek and ye shall find sites to feed your soul

Electric Holidays: Have yourself a wired little christmas with our guide to digital gift-giving and other online holiday helpers

Message Deleted: E-mail is anything but private. here's what you need to know to keep from telling your secrets to the boss

Bonanza: Was it just luck? How Citibank scored big in Japan

Dotcoms: persues a new media strategy by persuing old media assets

Expect more pain for Taiwan

Editorial: As new security worries like crime and terrorism rise, old rivalries are blocking needed cooperation

Letters & Comment:
Malaysia defends its I.T. record

Looking Back:
Murder in the streets

The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.