Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Don’t build dams everywhere!

With the effects of dam construction going well beyond the dislocation of people, China is waking up to its hydro legacy.

May 1, 2005
4 min read

Hydro projects are being built, planned or proposed on almost every river in the southwest, including the upper Yangtze, the upper Pearl, the Lancang and Nu valleys. No valley is being left undisturbed, and no river left undammed, in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Chongqing. Small, medium and large dams are springing up everywhere, with generating capacities ranging in size from more than 10 million kw, down to several thousand kw.

What is particularly worrying is that in most cases, no comprehensive planning for the development and environmental protection of the valleys involved has been undertaken. Each dam builder administers its own affairs, with no regard for the collective interest.

Cascades of dams are being built all over the river valleys of southwest China. In the upper reaches of the Yangtze, for example, starting from the Three Gorges project, strings of dams are planned for the main channel of the river, including 21 dams with a generating capacity of more than 150,000 kw each that are proposed for the Jinsha River (as the upper Yangtze is known).

If the current trend is allowed to continue, the Yangtze, Pearl, Lancang, Nu and Hongshui will no longer be natural rivers; they will be like staircases – a series of sections interrupted by hydro stations. So the water of the Yangtze will no longer come from heaven but from these “steps,” and our free-flowing rivers will disappear forever

The driving force behind this messy free-for-all in southwest China is the pursuit of economic gain. Driven by the profit motive, the dam builders are racing ahead with scant regard for environmental safety in the river valleys or possible changes in the power market. Such hortsighted and unchecked development could lead to endless trouble in the future.

The above situation has attracted the attention not only of ecologists and environmentalists, but also of economists, sociologists and the media. They are calling for more attention to be paid to improving comprehensive planning, scientific feasibility studies and good governance — but unfortunately nobody is willing to listen. It has become routine in China that the decision-makers and the builders of hydropower projects pay close attention to the proponents of such schemes, but turn a deaf ear to critics.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic, the unfortunate fact is that the construction of dams, large or small, has resulted in many “leftover problems,’ with those problems outweighing the project benefits. Over the past 50 years, more than 16 million people have been displaced by dams of various types, and as many as 10 million of those people are still living in poverty. And the reason is simple: Peasants living in hills and mountains lost the very ground on which their lives depended when the rising reservoirs flooded their farmland in the river valley.

While it is true that local governments can benefit from the project-related resettlement schemes and from the construction of new towns, it is also the case that local officials associated with resettlement operations tend to grab the opportunity to pocket some of the public funds earmarked for the schemes. Dam construction projects have become breeding grounds for corruption and degenerate behaviour.

Things have changed, however, especially in recent years. Ordinary people in China now have a growing awareness of democracy and have started to learn how to protect their interests. You know why more and more people displaced by dams are now seeking redress from higher authorities? People affected by these projects have come to realize that their rights, to survival and development, have been attacked and harmed.Chen Guojie is senior researcher at the Chengdu Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Translation from Probe International’s Three Gorges project : www.threegorgesprobe.org

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally