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IAN WILLIAMS: From the raging river to a lake the length of England the Yangtze is being transformed by the world’s biggest dam project, so are the lives of communities living along side it — shifting to higher ground to escape the rising waters. The river is a life line for hundreds of towns and villages, communities who were told the colossal Three Gorges Dam was worth the sacrifice for abundant electricity and to tame a dangerous river plagued by floods. This used to be the narrowest and the most treacherous part of the river where it squeezes down between the three gorges.
Now, of course, it’s wider, far deeper and — as supporters of the dam will tell you — far easier to navigate. For his part, our captain, 14 years on the river is proud of what has been achieved.
TU YUN HU (Translated): Before the dam was built it was really dangerous but there’s no problem at all. It’s very flat, like a mill pond.
IAN WILLIAMS: It was in June amid much media fanfare the slew skates were raised and new locks put into operation. The river behind the dam became a 400-mile-long reservoir raising 15 meters in two weeks.
More than 700,000 people have been moved to higher ground and the same number again will follow before the lake reaches its final height of 175 meters above sea level in six years’ time. The central government has made hundreds of millions of dollars available for relocation but while new towns have been built for the lucky ones corruption has been rampant.
XIANG TIAN SAN (Translated): They told us to move up the hill and relocate over there. They tore down my old home. My wife was inside at the time and she was killed. They didn’t give us enough compensation. So we don’t have a new house — only the shelter I built.
IAN WILLIAMS: He says corrupt local officials siphoned off relocation money his family was entitled to; he built his shelter from the debris of his old home and doesn’t know who to complain to. The local Communist Party boss refuses to meet him.
XIANG TIAN SAN (Translated): He stole so much money and built a huge house. Now they won’t let us go near him.
IAN WILLIAMS: His complaints are echoed by others in this village also living in shelters. And as we discovered on a journey down the Yangtze this is far from being an isolated case. A little further down river, what remains of another village and the scavengers taking what they can before this too is submerged. This is all that remains of a village that used to be home to two to three hundred people.
A factory here, a cement factory, was the main means of livelihood and the road used to lead down to the dormitories for the workers down there somewhere. The water will rise by another four meters this month since the authorities want to boost electricity output from the dam. Ren Mau and her family are stubbornly refusing to leave their house. They too claim officials siphoned off their relocation money.
REN MAU (Translated): We’re stuck here like beggars. They have done nothing to help what kind of place is this? What kind of place? We’re stuck here like beggars.
IAN WILLIAMS: With the water lapping a few feet blow they draw up a letter of complaint but have no idea who to send to. The Yangtze has probably seen what amounts to the world’s biggest scavenging operation, which continues into the areas next to be submerged; the corruption hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed in Beijing.
It was strongly attacked by the former premiere before he retired. Some local officials were removed but evidence from our visit suggests the colossal scale of this project continues to be matched by the enormity of the corruption that has accompanied it.