CNN logo
Message Boards 

CNN Networks 

Quick News 
Video Vault 
News Quiz 

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Earth banner

As Yangtze River dam rises, questions arise

Yangtze River
The Yangtze River is the largest and most powerful river in China   
May 8, 1998
Web posted at: 2:46 p.m. EDT (1846 GMT)

In this story:

FENGJIE, China (CNN) -- This small city, an ancient cultural center along the Yangtze River in central China, is doomed to disappear as the world's largest dam takes shape. The controversial Three Gorges dam project also calls for the forced relocation of more than 1 million people by the 2009 completion date.

But will such large-scale disruptions be outweighed by the presumed benefits of the multi-billion dollar dam? Opinion is divided.

Damming the Yangtze -- the world's third-longest river -- will create a reservoir 365 miles (600 km) long.

Pros and cons

In addition to forced evacuations, the project in Hubei province also means:

  • Some of the best farmland in the Yangtze River valley will be flooded. In all, the reservoir will consume 19 counties.
Dam worker
A construction worker prepares the hills for the reservoir   
  • The loss of spectacular scenery that has inspired poets and painters for centuries. Also being lost: shrines, cultural sites and archeological excavations.
  • Unknown consequences for the river's marine life, a vital source of food in the valley.
  • A strain on China's financial resources. The dam is officially estimated to cost $29 billion, a figure some experts say could easily double.

On the plus side, say supporters, the dam will:

  • Be capable of pumping out 18,200 megawatts of electricity from 26 generators, each equal to a medium-sized nuclear reactor. This cleaner hydroelectric power would offset the burning of polluting coal.
  • Prevent catastrophic flooding.
  • Boost China's economy through increased international shipping. Big ships could navigate the Yangtze all the way to Chongqing.

'Like a timebomb'

But the dam's opponents are not convinced. The project is one China cannot afford but will reap huge profits for some companies, says anti-dam activist Dai Qing.

People moving
The new dam-formed lake will force more than a million people from their homes   

Critics also point out that pollution in Chongqing -- where countless streams of raw sewage already pour directly into the Yangtze -- could become even worse when the river is dammed and pollutants cannot be flushed to the sea.

"It's just like a timebomb," adds Prof. Liang Congjie of Friends of Nature. "We don't have the right to pass such a big risky project to our grandsons."

China's government says such problems have been considered and will be solved.

In Fengjie, many of the Chinese being forced from their homes by the project told CNN they're happy to cooperate with the government and move elsewhere, but Dai insists there is widespread opposition.

People are afraid to speak their minds, she says. icon (127K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The relocations also present the potential for clashes between corrupt officials and residents angry over inadequate planning, international human rights groups have warned.

Despite critics at home and abroad, many Chinese seem willing to pay the price, and take the risks, to build the world's biggest dam.

Correspondent Gary Strieker contributed to this report.


Related story:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our
message boards & chat

Back to the top

© 1998 Cable News Network, Inc.
A Time Warner Company
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.