The Three Gorges Dam controversy

10 Mar

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, located on the Yangtze River in the Hubei Province of China. The construction of the dam began in 1994 and took 15 years to complete, costing $59 billion. The main purpose of the Three Gorges Dam is to generate electricity but in addition to this, the reservoir helps to control flooding on the Yangtze River basin and allows 10,000-ton ocean freighters to sail into China throughout the year.

Although the Three Gorges Dam has had positive economic impacts for China, such as reducing the cost of flood damage in the area, the problems associated with its construction have been the main talking point. An economic impact is that the local fishing industry has been affected – the construction of the dam prevents the 300 different species of fish which are found in the Yangtze River from spawning upstream, therefore diminishing population sizes and decreasing the number of fish that can be sold by local fishermen.

One of the main social impacts was that as a result of the construction of the dam, over 100 nearby towns had to be submerged, leading to the involuntary relocation of 1.3 million people. Most of the people who have had to be relocated are poor and uneducated, and make a living from working in the agricultural sector, as there was a large amount of fertile soil in the areas surrounding the Yangtze River. Due to this relocation of the local population, their employment opportunities and living standards have become more unstable, for example if they are forced to move to a town where the price of housing is more expensive than what they are used to.

Environmental impacts have also been significant. The creation of the dam has led to the endangerment and extinction of several plant and animal species. The Three Gorges region has been considered to have a large amount of biodiversity, however due to the increase of ocean freighters travelling through the river, many aquatic animals have been killed as a result of injuries from collisions and noise disturbances. There have also been problems of pollution. The Yangtze River is already polluted from the shipping of coal and being located near industrial activity, however pollutants from towns and waste dumps that have been flooded has added to the worsening water quality of the river.

It is important that when hydropower schemes are carried out in the future in other countries, that governments and planners learn from the negative impacts that the Three Gorges Dam project has created, so that similar social, economic and environmental problems can be avoided.



International Rivers (2014) Three Gorges Dam [online] Available at: [Accessed 10/03/14]


O’Hara, L (2005) The Three Gorges Dam Project [online] Available at: [Accessed 10/03/14]


Zhou, P (2014) Geography, Three Gorges Dam [online] Available at: [Accessed 10/03/14]


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