Friday, September 04, 2009

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Our river cruise down the Yangtze took three days. On our first day we were taken to a Chinese village to meet some of the residents there. The first family we met had a house with a basement, a general store at the bottom and three bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom and kitchen on the top floor. They had lived there about two years. Previously they had lived in another village but that village no longer exists due to the Three Gorges Dam Project. This project which was completed at the end of last year resulted in the water level through the Three Gorges rising an incredible 140 metres. The family we met were not the only people who had to be relocated – not by a long way. Some 1.4 million people have had to leave their homes, often where their families have lived for generations, and move to new locations. Entire cities were rebuilt higher up the river banks.

This family had the choice of a number of possible locations and had a fixed sum of money as compensation and towards building costs. They chose their preferred spot and constructed their present home. She described a great deal of grief when she and the residents of her previous village were called to a general meeting and told by a government official that their entire village would be destroyed. It was 7 years after they first heard about these plans that they actually moved which is a long time to have something so major hanging over you. She said however that having moved, and being able to open their shop, they were happy with how things had turned out for them.

We then walked through the village (If you find this tourist please take care of her. She is from deepest Northamptonshire) to see how the original villagers lived. Slight difference. I did take some photos of the inside of this home but as there were no windows they came out too dark to illustrate their living conditions, but let’s just say they were basic. Some of us thought we were in a shed, but it was the bedroom.

The stuff on the ground in front of me is the corn drying.

The closest sweet building is the communal ‘washroom’. Very picturesque but you might not necessarily chose to live there yourself. We asked the old guy who was the senior member of the household if he felt any resentment towards the ‘in-comers’ who had all mod cons and resettlement compensation. He said not at all as he remembers the days under Chiang Kai-Shek when he was forced to flee his home over and again. Now he is happy to have a place he calls home.

I could go on at great length about the potential advantages and disadvantages of this massive Dam Project but one thing will for ever stay in my mind.

The weight of millions of tons of water behind a dam can increase the chances of an earthquake. Critics of the project raised this many years before the project actually got underway but the authorities were convinced that this was not a threat.

On May 12th 2008 there was a massive earthquake. You will recall the images from newspapers and television at the time. The earthquake was in a province the Yangtze river passes through.

Official figures (as of July 21, 2008) ) state that 69,227 are confirmed dead, including 68,636 in Sichuan province, and 374,176 injured, with 18,222 listed as missing. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the number could be as high as 11 million. Whether or not the Dam had anything to do with this horrific disaster the fact remains that as we looked out of our boat and down at the waters we would see, floating along, shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Shoes that belonged to victims of the earthquake.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

You gotta give up that social worker adoption services job and become a travel correspondent for the BBC - a modern day Judith Chalmers! I have enjoyed every post so far - giving fresh human insight into Chinese matters. You are hereby awarded a gold star for your services to travel blogging!

J.J said...

Thank you YP - I really appreciate what you have said - especially as I seem to have bored everyone else to death on the subject of China!