Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A counterpoint to the Three Gorges Dam Controversy

China's Three Gorges Dam was first conceived by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in the early republican period. It was finally realized in recent times when China had the resources to build the dam. As with any high profile project, the dam attracted a lot of attention. Most from the west tend to be critical including a recent spate of them. I came across a well reasoned arguments that presented the positive sides of this project. With the author's permission, I am posting his comments below:
Some three years ago, I recall a similar article on the Three Gorges Dam by Shai Oster, in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that disaster will soon befall the Dam. Alas, no catastrophe happened to the Dam in the intervening years, but it seems that there remains a clan of people in America anxious to see the “demise” of the Dam in some way.

If we roll back the history of the Dam, we will recall that when China applied to the World Bank for a loan to build the Dam nearly twenty years ago, it was the U.S. who exerted strong pressure on the Bank to deny loan to China. As a result China had to foot the bill herself. But China persevered. Not only did it managed to come up with the huge sum to pay for the enormous job of building the world’s largest dam (which it still is), but it also managed to finish the job on time.

Fast forward to the time of the article of Mr. Oster; at that time the Dam was not yet finished, but there was a significant carping chorus from the U.S. who cited all the factors mentioned in the present articles and more, and strongly suggested that the Dam will be a failure.

At that time I wrote a response which basically said: “Cool it!” I mentioned that from all the reports from within China, and all those who took the Yangtze River cruise through the Dam seemed to say that while the project encountered some problems, they were not such as to slow the project or to impact the project negatively.

Now to the present; I am very sad to see that the carping chorus has not been quieted. Both of the articles forward by Roger quote a “brief statement” from the Communist Party, but then try to play it up like a doomsday announcement.

It happened that Premier Wen Jiabao himself also made a brief statement a few days ago. The gist of it was that the Dam is now finished and doing its job, but that China should not forget the few problems uncovered during the building of the Dam and should work to overcome them.

The editorial from the Washington Post did acknowledge that: “Though the project has generated much-needed electric power and helped control floods, ….” But power generation and flood control were in fact the two major reasons for China to build the Dam in the first place. In all respects, the Dam seems to have carried out these two functions very well. It is now capable of generating enough electricity to power a city the size of Shanghai; and last fall it showed its mettle in helping to relieve the potential big flood plaguing the upper part of the Yangtze.

For a project of unprecedented magnitude, it should not be surprising that it encountered various difficulties. The important question is whether they are surmountable. The “numerous problems” (actually five) cited by Venetia Rainey appear to be all readily solvable if they are seriously addressed. For example, the “small earthquakes” actually were shifting of the ground experienced by some localities because of the added weight of water. I believe the frequency of these incidences is decreasing, and by moving people away from areas where the incidences were more frequent, the problem is essentially overcome. Landslides also occurred in some of these areas, with rocks and earth falling at the side of the river. Again these occurrences are rarer now.

The silt deposits at the upstream side of the dam was something the experts in China worried about ever since the first large dam was built on the Yellow River (which infamously carries a huge volume of silt from the Loess Plateau up stream). However, the Chinese engineer devised a “silt flushing” mechanism which was first successfully applied at the Xiolangde dam, the largest on the Yellow River. The same method has been built into the Three Gorges Dam and the silt threat has been basically removed (the amount of silt on the Yangtze is much less than on the Yellow River to start with).

It will be time-wasting to refute the charges of these articles point by point. But from reports of those who visited the Dam lately via cruises or other mean, the Dam, fully operational, is looking majestic, and is enjoying a booming tourist trade. Where previously only 3000 ton ships can go from Shanghai to Chongqing, now the River can accommodate ships up to 10,000 tons. It has already played a role in flood relief on at least two occasions. In short, the Dam is alive and well, thank you!

I do however hope that the nay-sayers find better things to do. If they still want to carp, how about writing articles on the sad state of American infrastructure, where a great deal of it is old and decrepit and hardly any new construction is taking place.

Jay Hsu


Anonymous said...

Any Westerner that has a problem with the Three Gorges Dam should just go to China and complain about it. Then when a Chinese soldier uses your ass for bayonet practice, maybe you will finally learn to stay home and shut your pie hole.

Anonymous said...

Why haven't you addressed the growing problem of pollution accumulating in the rivers due to the construction of these dams? Pollution that is harming the wildlife and ruining the fishing industry on these rivers that has sustained populations for centuries along their banks?