The three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River in China is the largest hydropower project ever built. The construction began in 1994, designed to generate electricity and to tame China’s longest river, to shield millions of people from fatal floods. As a symbol of technological prowess, became a searing point of national pride.
The whole project cost 200 billion yuan ($28.6 billion), took nearly two decades to build, and required uprooting more than a millionpeople along the Yangtze River. And while the government promised the dam would be able to protect communities around its immediate downstream against a “once in a century flood.”
This efficacy has frequently been questioned. Those doubts recently resurfaced, as the Yangtze basin saw its heaviest average rainfall in nearly 60 years since June, causing the river and its many tributaries to overflow.
More than 158 people have died or gone missing, 3.67 million residents have been displaced and 54.8 million people have been affected, causing a devastating 144 billion yuan ($20.5 billion) in economic losses.
Despite the havoc, Chinese authorities claim the Three Gorges Dam has succeeded in playing a “crucial role” in intercepting floodwaters.
But with multiple gauging stations monitoring river flows in the Yangtze basin seeing record-high water levels this summer, some geologists say the limited role of the Three Gorges Dam in flood control has been laid bare.
One of the most controversial aspects of the mega-project was its enormous cost for villagers who had lived for centuries on the banks of the river. To make way for the dam’s massive reservoir, about 1.4 million people were uprooted, their ancestral homes demolished, communities broken up and farmlands flooded. The reservoir submerged two cities, 114 towns and 1,680 villages along the river banks.