Will the Three Gorges Dam be the world's largest hydro-electricity project? Or the worst ever environmental catastrophe?
Last week, a landslide in Badong County in Hubei Province, alongside the reservoir, killed more than 30 people after burying a bus. Tan Qiwei, vice-mayor of Chongqing, a municipality next to the reservoir, told a government-sponsored conference in Septemeber last that the lake's banks had collapsed in 91 places.
AdvertisementThese landslides are being caused by the huge weight of water behind the dam and fluctuations in the water level, delegates at the conference were told.
Farmers living near the dam's reservoir, which is 660 km (410 miles) long and an average of 1.1 km wide, tell a similar story. They talk of frightening tremors since the dam was completed last year, that have left cracks in the walls of their homes.
Chongqing officials recently announced that four million more residents would have to be relocated to "protect the ecology of the reservoir area", according to state media reports.
The project's initial plan had been to move just 1.2 million people. Wang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the government's Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, told the September conference, "[We cannot] profit from a fleeting economic boom at the cost of sacrificing the environment."
But despite these developments, China now insists that there have been no unforeseen environmental problems related to the project, due for completion in 2009.
Wang Xiaofeng himself sang a different tune this week. "Geological disasters in this area have been effectively controlled," he said at a press conference in Beijing to discuss the environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam.
Although he did not discount the possibility of natural disasters in the future, he added: "There will not be any major damage to life or property."
He also rebutted the various accusations claiming the Yangtze River dam is causing environmental damage.
Wang said there was less than half the expected levels of silt behind the dam, and outbreaks of algae in waterways feeding into the reservoir had been controlled.
Rare floral and fauna had been protected, he went on, and there was only a low risk of reservoir-induced earthquakes.
Wang also denied that the issue of four million extra residents being moved from their rural homes in Chongqing was anything to do with the $24 bn (£11.7 bn) Three Gorges Dam.
And he added that the project was achieving its intended aims - to produce clean electricity, to control flooding and to improve shipping along the Yangtze.
So with so much conflicting evidence, who is telling the truth? Chinese writer Dai Qing, who has long campaigned against the Three Gorges project, is in no doubt.
She says there is environmental damage and the government is trying to cover it up.
"If they're saying that the landslides have nothing to with the reservoir than they are telling lies," she told the BBC.
The activist said the area was unstable before construction began, and was never a suitable site to build such a large dam.
"They're not truthfully reflecting a serious situation. The government is not being responsible to business or to China," she added.
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