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Three Gorges challenges to linger
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The country will face serious challenges in managing the Three Gorges dam project after work on it ends next year, the official in charge of the project has said.

Wang Xiaofeng, director of the office of the State Council Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, said the challenges involved the "arduous task" of improving conditions for the 1.1 million people who have been relocated for the project, protecting the environment and controlling geological disasters around the dam.

"All the tasks are long-term ones that will exist after the project is finished in 2009," he said.

He also said he is likely to be the last director of the office of the State Council Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, which could be dissolved after the work on the dam is finished.

"I strongly feel I have the responsibility and duty of determining what we should do to meet these post-project challenges," he said.

Wang made these remarks on the sidelines of the annual session of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC, the top political advisory body.

Work on the dam, which holds 39 billion cu m of water, started in 1994, with the goals of taming the periodic floods on the Yangtze and generating clean energy.

It is hoped the 180-billion-yuan project will reduce the threat of floods on the Yangtze from once every 10 years to once every 100 years.

Wang said improving the lives of the 1.1 million people displaced by the dam will be a pressing mission.

"The final success of the project will depend on, in some sense, whether we can help these resettled people lead comfortable lives," he said.

The resettled people in the dam area have less arable land per capita than the national average and a higher unemployment rate, he said.

Nearly 1.3 million people will have been relocated to make way for the world's biggest hydropower project by next year, when the water level in the submerged 660-km stretch is expected to rise to 175 m. So far, 1.25 million of the displaced people have been resettled.

Wang also said much work needed to be done to curb pollution and control geological disasters around the dam, although the environmental and geological impact of the dam has been less than originally forecast.

"After all, such a massive hydropower project is bound to have some ecological and geological impact," he said, adding that measures should be taken to address any potential problems that may arise.

The water quality along several stretches of the Three Gorges Dam area is worsening even though the main body of water is slightly cleaner than in the past, the State Environmental Protection Administration said in a statement last month.

Meanwhile, fears have been growing that water from the world's largest hydropower project will strain shores and trigger landslides once the water behind the dam reaches its maximum height.

To meet future challenges, Wang said, the State Council will unveil a post-project development blueprint for the Three Georges dam area.

The blueprint will outline a long-term plan for aiding relocated people, ecological and environment protection, controlling geological disasters and building transport facilities in the dam area.

(China Daily March 18, 2008)

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