The Three Gorges Project. Part VIII. Resettlement and Inundation
We have already seen that TGP offers limited benefits in flood control
and energy provision. Besides the complicated siltation problem, it is rather
controversial regarding whether TGP will improve or deteriorate the current
navigation condition of the Yangtze River. In the following three parts we
are going to look at the problems that any large dams have to deal with, i.e.,
the resettlement and inundation loss, the negative environmental effects and
the huge cost of the project. Notably, in a thorough analysis of the
environmental impacts of TGP (The Chinese Academy of Science, 1988), the
large scale resettlement and inundation are considered to be the most
devastating aspects of the project.
The scale of relocation, as shown in Table I, is unprecedented in
human history. According to the feasibility report of "Chang Ban", the 150-
meter scheme will submerge 14 counties which includes two major cities,
Wanxian and Fuling. Both cities have had a cultural history of more than
1,000 years. The 180-meter scheme will submerge 19 counties and affect
part of Chongqing. The resettlement by the year 2,000 will exceed
1 million, equivalent to a migration of a small size European country.
For either scheme, the urban population will account for more than
50% of the relocation, making the resettlement of TGP more expensive than
usual. Most resettlements will be squeezed to the higher elevations of the
reservoir area, which has been already over populated in the recent years.
In the following context, the reservoir area of TGP mainly refers to the area
between Wanxian and Fuling.
Table I. Relocation and inundation loss of TGP (from The Chinese Academy
of Science, 1988, or specified otherwise).
Items 150-meter scheme 180-meter scheme
No. of counties 14 19
Resettlement 335,400 794,800
Resettlement in 1994 500,000 1.14 million
Resettlement in 20 years * 600,000 1.4 million
Loss of farmland (Ha) 10,000 26,500
Loss of grain (tons) 62,000 168,000
Loss of factories 379 620
Relocation cost (billion yuan) 3.5 - 7.4 ** 16.9 ***
*: Amount of resettlement after taking into account the population growth
and siltation (which will elevate the river bed and enlarge the inundation) in
20 years after the dam is built.
**: The cost of 3.5 billion yuans was taken from the feasibility report of
"Chang Ban", usually considered as a lower limit. The cost of 7.4 billion yuans
was reported by the local governments as well as CIDA (see below). From Dai
Qing (ed), 1989.
***: Estimate of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
>From Dai Qing (ed), 1989.
The reservoir area is a typical example of China's poor countryside.
The per capita annual consumption of grain is 340 kilograms, which is quite
below the national average of 400 kilograms. The population density of the
whole area is 244 person per square kilometer, while the density along the
river coast reaches over 600 per square kilometer. For many counties here,
the annual rate of population growth is above 5%, much higher than the
national average of 1.2%. The field size is only 0.07 hectare per capita, while
the cultivated land has already reached 38.2% of the total land area. A large
part of the farmland is of poor quality. About 30% to 50% of dry land is
cultivated on the slopes of > 25 degrees, which has caused low productivity
and serious soil erosion.
The forest coverage of the reservoir area has been reduced from 30%-
50% in the 50's to only 10% at the present time. As a result, soil erosion
in this area has been about 10 times more serious than normally allowed. In
fact, the environmental condition of the reservoir area has become worse
than that of the "yellow land" ("Huang2 Tu3 Gao1 Yuan2") in the northwestern
China, which is well-known for serious deforestation and soil erosion.
Flooding in this area has also become much more frequent and
devastating in the recent years. Obviously, the reservoir area has already
been over-cultivated. Unless the environmental conditions and the quality
of farmland are improved, it will soon lose the ability to support the current
population, not to mention any capacity to afford the large scale relocation
and inundation loss of TGP.
The development of the reservoir area has been delayed for more
than 30 years. Due to the uncertainty of TGP, the people in this area are
only allow to survive, but not to develop and improve their living. As a
result, the economic profile of this area is rather backward. In 1986, the
industrial and agricultural output was 8.6 billion yuans, in which the
agricultural output shared more than 50%. The per capita annual income was
600 yuans, which was below the national average. In many counties, the per
capita income was only 300-400 yuans, similar to that of the poorest provinces
such as Tibet and Guizhou. In addition, education level of this area is very
low. The percentage of the illiteracy in this area reaches 25%. More than
10% of the school age children cannot go to school. For Fengjie, a county
located at the middle of the Three Gorges, more than 40% of the population
above age 6 are illiterates.
TGP will aggravate the existing conflict between the growing
population and the over-reclaimed farmland in this area. In addition to the
massive inundation, the land to be submerged is of the best quality in the
reservoir area. Such a large inundation loss, as shown in Table II, will
inevitably cause food shortage problem. TGP will also inundate
the most developed part of the area, including the only two major cities,
Fuling and Wanxian . The 150-meter scheme will relocate one third, and
the 180-meter scheme two thirds, of the total urban population of the
Table II. Food shortage of the reservoir area in 1990. From the Chinese
Academy of Science, 1988.
Items: 150-meter scheme: 180-meter scheme:
Grain shortage (tons) 1.6 million 2.5 million
Land shortage (Ha) 433,000 690,000
Population * 3.2 million 4.5 million
*: Population that will face the food shortage.
Therefore, the huge resettlement and inundation loss will be the major
difficulties of TGP. It is impossible to relocate the huge population to an
already over-crowded area without deteriorating the current living
condition, further overloading the environmental capacity, and creating
economic conflicts between the immigrants and the local residents of this
area. Although the proponents of TGP proposed to create 50,000 hectares of
orange field for these peasants, the opponents questioned the feasibility by
pointing out that it is impossible to grow orange above the elevation of 400
meters due to the freezing temperature in the winter. Another idea that
"Chang Ban" proposed is the "developmental resettlement", which is to turn
the relocated farmers to other occupations (such as local industries). However,
the peasants in this area have been adapted to farming and fishing for more
than a thousand years. It will be very difficult for them to adapt to the
cultural change. Besides, the low education profile of the area will seriously
affect the feasibility of such proposal.
The opponents of TGP noted that resettlement had been a serious problem
for almost every dam built in China, especially for those large projects such
as Sanmenxia, XinAnjiang and Danjiangkou reservoirs (each involving
relocation of 300,000 people). The local residents complained bitterly about
their miserable living conditions after resettlement. It was said that the
relocated, homeless people made up a large part of "petitioners" (Shang4
Fang3) during the Cultural Revolution . In Jinzhai, a county in Anhui
province, the farmer are still whispering "a hundred thousand brotherly
army (who were involved in the dam project there), a hundred thousand
acres of fertile land (inundated), and a hundred thousand homeless". Should
we trust the the government this time, who promised to pay each relocation
up to 10,000 yuans?
 The urban population of the reservoir area is only about 5% among the
total population, which is much lower than the national average (18.7%) or
that of Sichuan (14.3%).
 Petitioners are mostly peasants who are mistreated by the local
officials and appeal to higher authorities (e.g., city governments and courts)
for justice. "Shang Fang" was specially popular in China during the 70's.