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New study forecasts Three Gorges resettlement disaster

March 12, 1998

An International Rivers Network and Human Rights in China Joint Report

As dam-affected people from around the world prepare for Saturday's first International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers[*], a study released today documents serious deficiencies in the largest resettlement program in the history of dam building.

The Chinese authorities "will have to rely on the military or a man-made flood to force people out of their homes" in the first stage of inundation of the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, according to a Chinese official involved in the dam's resettlement effort quoted in a study released today by International Rivers Network (IRN) and Human Rights in China (HRIC).

This investigation was carried out by Wu Ming, a Chinese sociologist with extensive experience in evaluating resettlement programs. The study covers five of 22 counties to be partly inundated by the dam's reservoir and reveals widespread mismanagement, such as corruption and falsification of resettlement figures; inadequate relocation plans, including insufficient compensation, farmland and jobs; and systematic discrimination against rural residents in awarding financial and material compensation.

As a result, in five years only some 50,000 people have been relocated, Wu Ming estimates. By 2003, if the project goes ahead, over half a million will be displaced, with an equal number to be moved by 2009. Thus the stage is being set for a repeat of the disastrous displacements of reservoir refugees that have occurred again and again since 1949, involving hasty, sometimes violent, relocations to inappropriate sites where the displaced often end up in extreme poverty.

"The Chinese government must immediately relax controls over reporting about resettlement and allow affected people to organize to protect their own interests if it wants to avert a disaster," says Sophia Woodman, Research Director of Human Rights in China. "The current situation in the Three Gorges area demonstrates once again the destructive effects of suppressing the voices and agency of ordinary people. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association, such as those in China, mean that people whose economic and social rights are under threat may have no way to protect themselves."

"The international community shares the blame for this emerging human rights tragedy," says Owen Lammers, IRN's Executive Director. European and Canadian export credit agencies have guaranteed loans for China to purchase needed equipment and technology from General Electric, Siemens and others, while Wall Street firms are funneling money through the State Development Bank of China to assist with the dam's financing. "These governments and companies must be held accountable, and called on to cease support for this reservoir of despair."

[*]An estimated 30 to 60 million people worldwide have been forcibly moved from their homes to make way for major dam and reservoir projects. 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. This global crisis prompted the formation of the International Movement of People Affected by Dams in Curitiba, Brazil in March 1997. The movement chose March 14, 1998, for the first International Day of Action Against Dams, and for Rivers, Water and Life. Close to 50 Actions will he held across 20 countries calling for the end to the era of devastation and human misery caused by inappropriate dam projects like the Three Gorges, so that the value of living rivers and the lives and livelihoods they support can begin to dictate river management strategies in the 21st century.

International Rivers Network (IRN) is the world's leading river advocacy organization. For more than 12 years, IRN has been supporting a worldwide movement to: promote the wise management of the planet's freshwater resources, link environmental protection with human rights, create a worldwide understudying of river ecology, and to reveal the interdependence of river' biological, physical and cultural aspects. IRN has been monitoring the Three Gorges project since 1986, and is currently leading the international effort to halt all foreign support for the project. (

Human Rights in China (HRIC) is an international, non-profit organization founded by Chinese scholars in March 1989, with offices in New York and Hong Kong. HRIC monitors the implementation of international human rights standards in the People's Republic of China and assists victims of human rights violations there. The group puts out regular press releases, a quarterly English journal, China Rights Forum, a biannual Chinese human rights education handbook and occasional reports. It regularly submits information to U.N. bodies and conducts other domestic and international advocacy activities. HRIC's mandate includes all rights recognized by international instruments, including both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. Its objectives are to facilitate the development of a domestic grassroots human rights movement and to promote international scrutiny of China's human rights situation.
Branch office: P.O. Box 71620, Kowloon Central Post Office, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Tel: (852) 2710-8021; fax: (852) 2710-8027

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