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Poorly Built, Dangerous Dams and Reservoirs in China

Posted by Author on February 20, 2007

by Fan Xiao, translated by Three Gorges Probe, January 29/2007- (cont’d)

Poorly built, dangerous reservoirs

Another major problem with China’s dams and reservoirs is that many have been poorly constructed and are dangerous, but are still operating nonetheless. Some of these facilities constitute a major hidden danger in the country’s water-resources system.

Statistics compiled by water experts reveal that as many as 36 per cent of China’s reservoirs are poorly constructed or dangerous. Half of those are medium or large in size, and about 700 of them are in urgent need of repair. Roughly 10,000 small reservoirs are in the same sorry state.

Such poorly built and dangerous reservoirs are time bombs waiting to explode in the event of a severe flood or other unexpected occurrence.

Unfortunately, Chinese history provides no shortage of lessons on dam failures. One of the worst was the collapse of the Banqiao and Shimantan dams in central China.

In August 1975, exceptional rainfall caused devastating floods in the Huai River valley in Henan province. The two medium-sized dams collapsed, along with 60 smaller reservoirs. The tragedy affected 12 million people, and claimed as many as 200,000 lives.

Wang Shucheng, the minister of water resources, has said that 235 dams (233 small, two medium-sized) have collapsed in China since 1991. Of these, 147 burst when flood water overtopped the dams — 71 of which turned out to have been poorly constructed. Mismanagement was cited as the cause of the other collapses.

China leads the world in terms of number and scale of dam projects, but it has lagged behind developed countries in the safety management of dams and reservoirs. In 1991, the government issued a “regulation on safety management of dams and reservoirs” and another on “methods of management on the downgrading and dismantling of reservoirs” in 2003, but problems have arisen with the implementation of these policies.

Moreover, financial and technical difficulties persist with the management of the poorly built and dangerous reservoirs. (to be cont’d…)

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original report from Three Gorges Probe

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