China Hydro-Dams Leave Locals Poorer

February 15, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: February 15, 2006 12:00 am

BEIJING – A massive hydro-electric scheme in western China has left locals poor and discontented, a researcher at an official think-tank said, casting doubt on official promises that the country's dams bring prosperity.

Residents in western China's Qinghai province have become poorer despite a project to build 13 hydro-power dams along the Yellow River for about 50 billion yuan ($6.2 billion), said Zhou Tianyong, a professor at the Central Party School in Beijing where up-and-coming officials are trained for promotion.

“The more dams that are built, the more we're shifted and the poorer we become, and the more we see the less hope we have,” Zhou quoted discontented residents as telling him, according to report in the Economic Information Daily on Wednesday.

The dams under construction below the Longyang Gorge in Qinghai's east are surrounded by a population of one million mostly poor farmers and herders, many Tibetan or members of other ethnic groups, the paper said.

They are being built below the main dam at the mouth of the gorge. The main dam began operating in 1987.

Work on some of them began a few years ago, and the project will take a decade or more to complete, according to reports in state media.

Officials promised the dams would “promote local development, but the results of many years of development have been extremely disappointing”, the newspaper report said.

Zhou found residents in the area had an average net income of 1,772 yuan ($220) per head in 2004 – about half the national average – and loss of land and roads from the dams left many even poorer than before.

About a fifth lived in “absolute poverty” on annual incomes of 625 yuan or less, he said.

No Power To The People

Although they lived close to the dams, they did not have access to its water and relied on infrequent rains for drinking water. And power lines passed over their villages without sharing the electricity generated, he said.

“After the dam water level was raised this year, many farmers and herders around the dam were moved for a second time, but state compensation was meagre and they have suffered big losses and become increasingly poor,” the paper said of one of the dams, citing Zhou's report.

The Yellow River dams will have generating capacity of 11.7 gigawatts, compared to the 18 gigawatts the Three Gorges Dam – the world's biggest hydro-power project – will have by 2009.

Zhou's findings have emerged at a time when China is planning several other ambitious and controversial hydro projects in its west to rival the massive Three Gorges Dam, including a series of dams along the wild Nu River in Yunnan province.

Officials and some experts have said those projects will also lift local residents from chronic deprivation. But Zhou said locals often lose out unless the government offers special support and revenue sharing.

He told the paper that “this mode of development … makes no contribution to local development and lifting farmers out of poverty, and even harms their interests”. ($1 = 8.045 yuan)