Enviroment: Millions of lives are uprooted in mass migration

The People
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The Independent Online
A total of 1.2 million people will have to be relocated as the waters of the Yangtze rise behind the dam wall. This largest peacetime forced migration in history represents the most sensitive political issue connected with the project.

A few years ago, the Chinese government actually planned to move a large contingent to the far north-west province of Xinjiang, but even Peking realised that this was going too far and would prompt a popular revolt.

So now a massive construction programme is under way inland from the river in Sichuan and Hubei provinces to build the new cities, towns, roads and factories for the forcibly displaced.

Around 40 per cent of the total Three Gorges Dam price-tag is earmarked to pay for relocation costs and compensation, and so far 100,000 people have been moved.

Lu Chan, the spokesman for the Bureau for Resettlement and Development, said that two cities, 11 counties, 114 towns, 1,711 villages, 34.8 million square metres of housing, and 1,599 factories will all be submerged when the project is completed in 2009. The city of Wanxian, for example, is high on the banks of the Yangtze - but not high enough. More than half the city will be flooded, and 250,000 people moved away.

In a culture where ties to ancestral homes are felt keenly, the flooding of family burial grounds and the forced removal from ancient villages causes great distress. So too does the loss of fertile farming land.

Public annoyance is exacerbated when there is a shortfall in the promised compensation. Every family is supposed to receive a fixed amount of relocation money, but since the process started there have been repeated reports of corrupt local officials taking their cut, or deciding to administer the funds on mass projects. Even when the money is doled out correctly, it is often inadequate to pay for new homes.