The Three Gorges Dam has long been a lightning rod for controversy. We won’t hash out all the details of this old story, but here are the Cliff Notes… Supporters of the dam saw it as necessary for boosting energy production and hailed it as an engineering marvel. Rights groups found fault with the forced relocation of those living in the area. (For a recent Reuters story on the human cost of China’s dam building projects check here.) Greens, meanwhile, predicted a devastating effect on the environment.
The project’s success remains a matter for debate. A coworker of mine can attest to the fact that her remote hometown now receives power 24 hours a day thanks to the dam. Nonetheless, criticism of the project like this will occasionally pop up from government sources.
The debate may soon enter another phase. I was recently speaking with an NGO worker who said rumors are swirling that the controversial former Premier of China, Li Peng, who led the drive to construct the dam, may be ailing. The event of his death – he is 80 now – would allow critics to more openly express negative views about the project, the NGO worker said.
The die has already been cast for the Three Gorges. But a more open dialogue about its successes and failures could have a positive effect on future public works projects in China.