China approves world's largest dam

April 24, 1991

A massive dam planned for China's Yangtze River has been placed on the Ten Year Plan and passed by the Seventh Session of the Thirteenth Conference of the Communist Party.

The Three Gorges Dam, which will be the largest ever built, had been the subject of unprecedented protests in China until the massacre at Tienanmen Square.

The chief proponent of the dam is Premier Li Peng. Mid-1990 reports from China indicated that he had resurrected the scheme after it had been officially shelved for financial reasons. The dam will be 200 metres high, flood 1.2 million people off their land and cost the country an estimated $12 billion.

China is expected to seek foreign financing for the project, which will cost the equivalent of one-fifth of the national budget.

In 1985, the Japanese government pledged to help finance the dam. Currently, the Japanese Ministry of Construction, along with private construction and electrical companies, is expressing interest in getting involved in the project. Chief among the other sources expected to be approached is the World Bank.

In Japan and North America, environmentalists and human rights activists are trying to discourage their governments from backing the project. Friends of the Earth Japan has vowed to stop Japanese funding for Three Gorges.

In Canada, where a $14 million Canadian government-funded feasibility study recommended that the Three Gorges Dam go ahead, the Toronto-based Probe International has filed formal complaints of professional negligence and misconduct with professional engineering associations.

Nine independent experts who reviewed that feasibility study, including Dr Philip Williams, a hydrologist and president of the San Francisco-based International Rivers Network, have publicly condemned the study. "The consequences of failure at the Three Gorges Dam would rank as one of history's worst man-made disasters. Tragically, the Canadian engineering consultants did not address the safety issue either systematically or coherently", Williams said.

Critics claim the dam will prove to be an economic boondoggle, a technical failure and a devastating exercise in social engineering.

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