Construction At A Price

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from Beijing.

China recently passed a milestone in the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. It is the largest dam in the world and the controversy surrounding it is as big as the construction.

The milestone is the pouring of the last concrete, finishing the main wall of the world's largest dam. More work remains until the dam and all its power plants are running by 2009.

Chinese leaders started dreaming of this dam almost a century ago and construction has been going on for a decade. But it comes at a price. The area surrounding the dam is known for the beauty of the Three Gorges where it's located.

Chinese officials say more than a million people were relocated to higher ground. They had no choice in the matter. And despite a massive effort to save archeological sites, much is now lost forever.

"Very bad situation, terrible," says Dai Qing, one of China's few outspoken critics of the dam. She sees it as an environmental disaster. "Cost is terrible because of environment and forced resettlements."

As the dam was built, the water backed up behind it to create a massive lake, and that meant dozens of towns and villages along the Yangtze River were forced to move. Chinese officials argue that the project will make life better for all Chinese.

For one thing, it will have 26 hydro-electric generating power plants, which the Chinese say will help wean them off polluting coal fired plants. But the reality is that China is growing so fast, it needs all the power it can get and few if any existing plants will likely shut down.

It's hoped the dam will meet one critical goal, the control of the powerful Yangtze River and its spring floods that have taken 300 thousand lives in the last century. And if it works, China may build another dozen dams on the Yangtze. One of the world's mightiest rivers will be tamed, say some or perhaps, warn others, ruined forever.
by Barry Petersen