China’s building of world’s third tallest dam ignores Tibetan concerns, serious geological and other risks

A woman stands next to the debris of demolished houses and her makeshift hut near Lianghekou in Sichuan province, the site of the latest huge dam to be built in China’s drive for greener sources of power. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
A woman stands next to the debris of demolished houses and her makeshift hut near Lianghekou in Sichuan province, the site of the latest huge dam to be built in China’s drive for greener sources of power. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

(, Jun27, 2017) – As China proceeds with the construction of the 295-metre, world’s third-tallest dam begun in 2014 in Nyagchu (Chinese: Yajiang) County of Sichuan Province, Tibetan communities as far as 100 kilometres (60 miles) upstream will be severely affected, losing most of everything they value, including in terms of their livelihood, home, communities and religious sites. The Lianghekou dam, when completed by 2023, will drown ancestral homes, revered Buddhist monasteries, fertile crops and sacred mountains, said an AFP reported carried by Jun 26.

The dam, once it begins to operate, will produce 3,000 megawatts of energy. It is located at the confluence of the Yalong, Xianshui and Qingda Rivers.

The dam building, and one on such a scale, has alarmed local Tibetans who believe they can only live peacefully if the nature around them is protected. Most of them would not dare remove so much as a single stone from the mountain called Palshab Drakar, an important pilgrimage site set to go under the dam, the report cited a villager named Tashi Yungdrung as saying.

Villagers were reported to be bracing for mass relocations, an experience that has previously caused havoc in other parts of the People’s Republic of China. The report cited a state-affiliated energy website as saying some 6,000 people across four counties will be relocated.


On the issue of compensation, Li Zhaolong, a Tibetan from Zhaba village, has said he had received 300,000 yuan (US$44,000) in government compensation to build a new home on higher ground, where he will move next year.

However, sustained livelihood is another matter. Li Zhaolong has said the 28,000 yuan moving fee his family received per person will not last long once their crops are submerged and they have no other sources of income.

“Before, we were farmers, and now we have no land,” Li has said. “We can’t move to a township, because we are uneducated and there will be no way to make a living there.”

Religious sentiments are also severely affected. Five monasteries have been or will be rebuilt on higher ground, but their spiritual importance will be diminished as the communities they serve are displaced, a lama named Lobsang was cited as saying.

On the difficulty or impossibility of opposing the Chinese government project, the lama has said, “The government is very big, and the valley is very small. So much is lost, but we cannot resist or fight.”

Worse, he has continued, “When you say something and try to protect your place, the government gives you another name: separatist.”

The construction of the dam itself offers no employment opportunity to the local Tibetans. The report cited construction worker Zeng Qingtao as saying the state-owned Power Construction Corporation had brought in some 10,000 employees, none of them locals. “We can’t hire Tibetans. They aren’t reasonable,” he was quoted as saying.


In terms of cost-benefit analysis, Darrin Magee, a professor specialising in Chinese hydropower at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the US, has said, “The dams’ negative impacts are very acutely felt at a local scale, while the positive impacts are very diffuse and broadly distributed.”

Other experts, including in China itself, have said the dam’s benefits have been overstated while its adverse impacts understated or altogether ignored.

Some experts are said to question whether hydropower can cut coal dependence, as its low efficiency can spur the development of backup coal plants that operate during dry spells.

Secondly, Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the provincial government’s geology and mineral resources bureau, has been cited as saying studies show reservoirs in this region emit huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide derived from organic matter trapped underwater during flooding.

Thirdly, engineers and environmentalists were reported to be worried that Sichuan, which will receive a third of China’s planned hydropower investment by 2020, is a hotbed of seismic activity that could damage hydropower stations.

Fourthly, geologists were said to believe the water pressure exerted by dam reservoirs can trigger earthquakes, which some suspect happened in the 2008 Wenchuan quake that claimed 87,000 lives, a few hundred kilometres from Lianghekou.

China had just two dams in 1949, but now boasts some 22,000 – nearly half the world’s total – in all but one of the PRC’s major waterways. The report said plans posted at the Lianghekou construction site showed that 22 power plants will be built along the Yalong, a Yangtze tributary, collectively capable of generating 30 gigawatts of electricity or a fifth of China’s current total installed hydropower capacity.


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