Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't Give Up Eating for Fear of Choking

The largest dam in the world - the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River - is wreaking all kinds of havoc these days.

From Xinhua News:

CHONGQING, April 17 (Xinhua) -- The rise and fall of the water level in the Three Gorges reservoir has triggered 166 geological hazards and forced 28,600 people to relocate in Chongqing Municipality since last September, local officials said.

Since the water levels behind the dam rose from 145 m to 172.3 m on September 28 last year, these geological disasters including landsides and mud-flows have caused economic loss of 539 million yuan (79 million U.S. dollars). No casualties were reported, said Wen Tianping, spokesman of Chongqing government, at a press conference Thursday.

The people whose houses were liable to suffer damage had moved to safe places where new homes have been built. Some are living with their relatives, he said.

Read On
The problems with this dam are too long to rattle off in one blog post. In fact, we don't even know the extent of the problems that the dam may ultimately cause. New waves of difficulties with the dam are constantly coming to light.

From Earth Times:
Beijing - China's Three Gorges Dam, due to be completed in November, is getting bigger every day on all fronts. While officially the government said it has spent 180 billion yuan (26.35 billion dollars) on building the 185-metre dam and a reservoir stretching more than 600 kilometres, local critics and foreign observers said the real figure could be more than twice that amount, and that's just in the construction phase.

A new figure emerged in local media, indicating that nearly 100 billion yuan would have to be spent over the next 10 years to manage the myriad social and environmental problems that have risen alongside the dam's concrete wall.

The financial magazine Caijing and local newspapers reported that 98.9 billion yuan would be needed over the next decade. Of this, 38.2 billion yuan would be spent on environmental protection.

Read On
Nobody should be surprised by the new problems that are arising on an almost daily basis. The project, from the beginning, has been over-the-top. Everyone involved with the decision to do it took the potential costs into consideration.

I'm about to finish the book River Town, by Peter Hessler. Hessler is a really good writer from Columbia, Missouri who's written for publications like The New Yorker and National Geographic. He, along with Edgar Snow, keeps the tradition of prominant China writers from the Kansas City area going.

River Town is about Hessler's two year Peace Corps experience in Fuling, a city in between Chongqing and the three gorges, in 1996 and 1997. The book is a must-read for any westerner living in China. It's also good for anyone wanting an enlightening read into modern China. I highly recommend it.

I found his writings about the Three Gorges Dam, which at the time was just in its earliest stages of planning and development, to be a particularly good part of the book. Fuling is a city that's been affected greatly by the dam.

To hear the way Hessler describes people talking about the contruction of the dam in the late 90's and the effects it'd have in the future is very interesting.

From page ninety-nine of the book:
I taught my writing class from a Chinese-published text called 'A Handbook of Writing.' Like all of the books we used, its political intent was never understated, and the chapter on "Argumentation" featured a model essay entitled "The Three Gorges Project Is Beneficial."

It was a standard five-paragraph essay and the opening section explained some of the risks that had led people to oppose the project: flooded scenery and cultural relics, endangered species that might be pushed to extinction, the threat of earthquake, landslide, or war destroying a dam that would hold back a lake four hundred miles long. "In short," the second paragraph concluded, "the risks of the project may be too great for it to be beneficial.

The next two sentences provided the transition. "Their worries and warnings are well-justified," the essay continued. "But we should not give up eating for fear of choking." And the writer went on to describe the benefits - more electricity, improved transportation, better flood control - and concluded by asserting that the Three Gorges Project had more advantages than disadvantages.
So there you go. All of these recent developments - land slides, out-of-control costs, increasing amounts of displaced persons - were taken into consideration.

But despite these costs, "one shouldn't give up eating for fear of choking."


Josh said...

I have yet to read River Town, although I loved Oracle Bones. You're the um-teenth person to recommend the first one so I guess I need to pick it up.

It's definitely a shame all the environmental and personal damage that has happened because of this dam. It may be true that you shouldn't be afraid of eating for fear of choking, but it also might be wise to watch what you eat.

Mark said...

That's a nice way of putting it, Josh!

Thomas said...


you can increase the recommendation count to "um-teenth + 1". It is a great book.

Ramesh said...

Nice post Mark.

@Josh - Yes, you should watch what you eat, but at the end you have to eat too !