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3 Gorges Dam Construction Progresses Amid Controversy - 2002-09-10

China is defending the construction of its giant Three Gorges Dam, saying that it is progressing smoothly. But the massive project remains dogged by problems over its effect on the environment, corruption and the forced resettlement of more than a million people.

The Chinese government is trying to deflect widespread criticism over its construction of the world's largest hydro-electric dam, which will cost about $25 billion by the time it is finished in 2009.

Guo Shuyan, head of the Three Gorges Dam committee, told a news conference in Beijing Tuesday that construction of the dam on the Yangzi River is progressing according to schedule. Mr. Guo says the government has relocated 646,000 people living along the Yangzi River in southwest China to make way for the dam. More than one million people will be resettled by 2009.

Mr. Guo said the success of China's giant dam demonstrates the superiority of its socialist system. He says most of the farmers are happy to relocate because they are given new homes and higher living standards.

But Mr. Guo admits that some villagers have not received money earmarked for their resettlement, because funds have been siphoned off by corrupt officials. He says that since construction of the dam began in 1993, 267 people have been charged with embezzling relocation funds, and some have been imprisoned.

Mr. Guo argues that money illegally skimmed from the budget amounts to just a tiny fraction of Beijing's investment in the dam. The government has previously said that officials embezzled $57 million from Three Gorges resettlement funds.

Another official in charge of overseeing construction, Shou Jiahua, dismissed concerns that the dam will cause more environmental problems than it addresses.

Ms. Shou admits that once the 185 meter deep dam is completed, there will be more earthquakes and landslides in the area because of instability caused by the dam's high water level. The completed dam will form a 600 kilometer-long reservoir by submerging more than 100 towns along the Yangzi River. But she insists the government has a program to control any increased danger to human lives and property.

China decided to build the Three Gorges Dam to control devastating flooding each year and to generate electricity.

Residents living in areas to be flooded complain widely of being forced out of their homes without compensation. Villagers who protest against the dam are routinely harassed or detained by police.