Traveling Down the Yangtze
New Fengdu is only one side of the picture. When we arrived in Yunyang, 200 kilometers downstream of Fengdu, we found a town of similar size which has not recovered from the shock of displacement. When the old town was submerged, only 45 of the town's 181 factories were moved to higher ground. Of these, 20 more have in the meantime closed their gates, including a salt factory which had been in operation for 2,100 years.
found that 20,000 people have lost their jobs in Yunyang. Like in other cities and counties, people had to use up much of their savings to pay for their new apartments, and were not able to invest in a new economic start. Many now survive as petty traders and migrant workers. The city already looks old and derelict.
If the social balance sheet seems to be mixed, the environmental picture looks bleak. Polluting mines and factories were submerged in the reservoir. Sewage plants were built, but the local authorities often don't have the funds to operate them. A stagnant water body is less capable of cleaning itself than a river is, and the lower Three Gorges Reservoir has become a sad garbage dump.
Caijing estimates that 51 percent of the reservoir area have been affected by erosion, and that the reservoir will be filled in 40 years if current trends cannot be reversed.
Before traveling down the Yangtze, we visited Dujangyan, the ingenious irrigation system in Sichuan Province which has been in continuous operation for more than 2,200 years. When they built the system in 256 BC, the designers found ways to manage floods, dispose of sediments and irrigate the fertile Chengdu plains by working with the flow of the Min River rather than against it. They are still revered as gods in temples on the banks of the river. I doubt the masterminds of the Three Gorges Dam will ever receive the same honor.
Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. His blog, Wet, Wild and Wonky, appears at www.internationalrivers.org/en/blog/peter-bosshard