Chinese officials have admitted that the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River will, in the absence of urgent preventative action, provoke an ecological and environmental "catastrophe", the Times reports.
The shock confession confirms what opponents of the £13bn project have always maintained, and officials have now conceded that the massive structure is responsible for a "litany of threats to the environment", including "conflicts over land shortages, ecological deterioration as a result of irrational development and, especially, erosion and landslides on steep hills around the dam".
The erosion menace poses the most serious threat to those living close to the lake behind the dam. While 1.3m people were relocated to enable its creation, hundreds of thousands more may have to join the exodus or face possible "geological disasters" along the shore.
One official explained that "the shore of the reservoir had collapsed in 91 places and a total of 36km had already caved in". Such landslides have produced waves up to 50m tall which then slam into the shore wreaking further havoc. In July, the Times notes, "a mountain along a tributary collapsed, dragging 13 farmers to their deaths and drowning 11 fishermen in a two-storey-high wave".
Geological instability isn't the only unforeseen negative effect of the Three Gorges. Downstream of the dam, locals have been battling two billion rats forced into farmland by rising water levels after the dam authority released a large amount of Yangtze River water "to control flooding in the face of the annual rainy season".
Given the clear and mounting evidence that the project is on the verge of going seriously titsup, an official statement on Xinhua news agency admitted: “There exist many ecological and environmental problems concerning the Three Gorges Dam. If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe.”
Wang Xiaofeng, the director of the administrative office in charge of building the dam, confessed: “We absolutely cannot relax our guard against ecological and environmental security problems sparked by the Three Gorges project. We cannot win passing economic prosperity at the cost of the environment.”
Environmental activist Dai Qing told the Times: “We have never stopped talking about the problems but our voice was too weak. The system does not listen to the voices of civic activists or dissidents. But now, at last, they are starting to hear.
"The Government knows it has made a mistake. Now they are afraid that the environmental catastrophe that they cannot prevent will spark civil unrest. So they want to go public before the troubles start.” ®