China’s Controversial Dams

9 Apr

The Mekong River, known as the Lancang in China, courses through the heart of inland South-East Asia; beginning on the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through the Chinese Yunnan Province, before continuing downstream into Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. With over 60 million people living directly off the river and its tributaries, whether it be for food, water, transportation or other general aspects of daily life, the river has a significant impact upon people’s lives.

However despite the significant impact of the river on human life, the Chinese Government has, over the past couple of decades, built an increasing number of dams that threaten to pose serious issues for the river ecosystem, which in turn will pose serious threats for the lives of those dependent upon the Mekong River. And it did so without consultation with its downstream neighbours, and without assessment on the impacts on the rivers ecosystem and dependent people.

Following the construction of the controversial dams upstream in China, Cambodian people are concerned about the drying up of lakes (fed from the river tributaries) and the impact this will have the fish – the country’s main source of protein; whilst in Vietnam, residents of the Vietnamese Delta are worried about not having enough water to support agriculture and other basic livelihoods. In 2010 downstream countries experienced the lowest water levels in 50 years, however despite claims from neighbouring and affected countries, the Chinese Government refused to concede that the hydrological dams built upstream had anything to do with such water scarcity downstream.

However it is not just people downstream that have been affected by the building of the dams. Within China communities that were forced to be resettled as a result of the Manwan and Dachaoshan dams have experienced a lack of compensation, severe issues with food securities and a noted increase in risk of disease. With 8 dams either built or currently under construction, and a plan to build more in the upcoming years, what environmental risks is China willing to gamble? Can China really expect to continue building dams, attempting to harness nature, without taking into account the significant ecological threats it is creating for present and future generations, both within China and elsewhere?




Mekong/Lancang River –

China rejects Mekong dam criticism- 

Sharipo, J (2012) China’s Environmental Challenges. Polity Press, Cambridge. 


2 Responses to “China’s Controversial Dams”

  1. lo2g11 May 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    The Three Gorges Dam

    Although construction began in 1994, plans have been simmering since 1916 when it was first proposed by Sun Yat-sen. It was not until 2009 that the project was finally completed. The project is currently the world’s largest as it produces 22,500 MW bigger than the Itaipu Dam in Brazil (14,000MW). It is one of many dams that China has planned to build.

    Also as alluded to in the above posting the Three Gorges Dam has been controversial because of its consequences including destructing the ecosystem in the Yangtze River which has played a major part in the extinction of many species such as the Yangtze River Dolphin.The displacement of people from their homes highlights the political controversy associated with this construction. Despite these negatives the Three Gorges Dam has been a standard that the Chinese are looking to adhere to when producing other dams. This is because of the positives that can be highlighted from the construction and which will now be addressed.

    Floods were previously common in the Yangze Basin and killed over 320,000 people. The Dam flood’s control positively affects 200 million people dwelling downstream on the river flow.

    Another benefit of the Three Gorges Dam will be the large amount of electricity that it will be able to produce

    Economically the Dam provided many benefits as not only does it aid in the creation of employment and can help improve quality of life for many people leaving near the project, it is also an interesting tourist attraction as it is the only one of its kind in the world.


    Hays, J. (2008) Three Gorges Dam: Benefits, Problems and Costs – China Facts and Details. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 May 2013]

    Youtube (2013)Three Gorges Dam in China – DAM – Big Bigger to the world most Biggest.Youtube [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 May 2013]


  1. Cambodia: Work Begins on Controversial Se San River Dam. | Living in Phnom Penh - May 11, 2013

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