A joint report by the International Rivers Network and Human Rights in China
Human rights violations associated with the displacement of people for the construction of massive dams is a growing, yet neglected, problem. An estimated 30 to 60 million people worldwide have been forcibly moved from their homes to make way for major dam and reservoir projects. These “reservoir refugees” are frequently poor and politically powerless; many are from indigenous groups or ethnic minorities. The experience of more than 50 years of large dam building shows that the displaced are generally worse off after resettlement, and more often than not they are left economically, culturally and emotionally devastated.
The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) dismal history in resettling populations displaced by major dam projects in the past has been well-documented. Since 1949, more than ten million people have been moved for water control projects, sometimes resulting in major conflicts between the displaced and the authorities. Although the Chinese government claims to have instituted new regulations and policies in the 1980s, policies the World Bank has praised as being a “model” for resettlement in developing countries, in reality the provisions for those displaced by water projects generally remain severely inadequate. Furthermore, the regulations allow for lower levels of compensation for and consultation with those displaced by dam construction – the majority of whom are generally rural residents – than are provided for resettlers associated with other types of infrastructure projects. This is part of a historic pattern of discrimination against China’s farmers and rural dwellers.
Now China is moving forward on what is slated to be the largest such relocation ever, the movement of between one and two million people to make way for the mammoth Three Gorges Dam- the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. This displacement could also turn out to be one of the world’s worst reservoir resettlement disasters. Unlike some of their counterparts around the world who are now successfully mobilizing to challenge massive dams and to defend their right to their land and livelihoods, Three Gorges resettlers await their fate mostly in silence, their concerns censored out of media reports and concealed even from the eyes of central government officials.
According to a January 1998 investigation (Section II, below) by Wu Ming, a Chinese sociologist with extensive experience researching the impacts of dam and reservoir resettlement programs in China, serious deficiencies are already apparent in the preliminary stages of the relocation process. These include official cover-ups of inadequacies and failures in resettlement programs falsification of figures on their progress, endemic corruption and misuse of resettlement funds; systematic discrimination against rural residents in the allocation of resettlement resources, and a lack of proper efforts to inform, let alone consult with the populations to be relocated. Questions about provisions for the displaced have been raised again and again by critics of the dam project, both inside and outside China, to no avail. Owing to the inadequacy of financial and material resources allocated for resettlement, concerned journalists and officials told Wu Ming, as the scope of displacement continued to expand, they feared it was virtually inevitable that there would be major confrontations between people to be relocated and the authorities.