Unpredictable long-term consequences

A photo reportage about the Three Gorges Dam – Part II

China is changing its face from day to day. It is not only in the booming metropolises that skyscrapers stretch their heads toward the sky. Along the 660-kilometer-long Yangtze reservoir, too, the mountains are crowned by rapidly growing retort cities. One building complex resembles another: Female tiled facades and colorfully pasted window glasses as a sign of the new chic.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

Tiled facades and colored window glass are considered particularly chic

The city of Wushan has chosen electric plastic palm trees in candy colors as street lighting, which create a big hullabaloo at night. A monstrous piazza was built, completely covered with marble flooring.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

Exploring the new cities requires rough sportsmanship

oversized coarse displays annoy around the clock with all kinds of advertising. For many a trip to a gentler world. Yes, it already looks colorful. Nevertheless, appearances are deceiving – many of the new houses have deficiencies. Always needs to be repaired.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

Life among a collection of construction sites. Everybody tries to find his own place in it

Mr. J. and his wife have received the full compensation for their land and house. From this they were able to buy an apartment already assigned to them. The money has thus been used up. So far, only his wife has found work in a factory. She works every day – and still the money is not enough. Most citizens had to pay extra for their move, many have incurred debts and hardly anyone has a real job. Almost everyone drives a cab or sells coke.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

In the port of Wushan: Many hope for income from Yangtze River tourism, but so far it has been small

However, everyone agrees on one point: the "Three Gorges Dam" will go down in history and write records. In a country with an acute shortage of electricity as a result of industrial development in the provinces, the clean energy provided by the dam comes in handy. However, the operating water level must be kept very high in order to achieve maximum energy gain.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

New land on the Yangtze. The fields are too small to feed a family from them

Here a conflict arises. Journalist Dai Qing, opponent of the dam project and China’s best-known dissident, criticized:

To maximize power generation, the reservoir had to be filled to the brim. On the other hand, to protect against floods, it should be kept empty. The Chinese government has so far failed to explain how the dam can perform both tasks simultaneously.

Many nations have recognized that the long-term consequences of such huge construction are unpredictable and the ecological damage is enormous. Billions of dollars are already being invested to repair the effects of dam construction. In the meantime, it has been officially confirmed that the dam is already beginning to crack. The opponents of this project fear that the reservoir will be contaminated by wastewater from industry and cities, because the closure of the Yangtze River prevents natural self-purification.

The newly built city of Wushan is one of many on the Yangtze River

Reforestation is essential, as one of the main causes of the disastrous floods along the river is the senseless clearing of forests.

Unpredictable long-term consequences

This hut is above the flood line. The farmers still had to give up their land and do not know what to do next

One of the biggest problems, however, is the silting of the reservoir, as the Yangtze carries up to 530 million tons of sand and silt annually. These sludge masses are deposited on the bottom of the reservoir and cause problems for the turbines and sluice gates. To prevent a catastrophe, another project of the builders was approved. The construction of 4 dams on the upper reaches of the river is supposed to be the solution. To make matters worse, the dam is being built in an area prone to earthquakes. The weight of the dam and the masses of water that have to be dammed up can provoke earthquakes.

A canal of the "Three Gorges Dam" in Maoping

In addition to the Yangtze River dolphin, 22 other species on the Red List of Threatened Species are endangered.

This project is one of the most ambitious in China. The social and ecological consequences and risks are subordinated to the pursuit of technical progress.

Rarely has a building demanded such gross sacrifices and ultimately lost so lamentably in the face of the task ascribed to it.

Munich-based photographer Anke Neugebauer, 30, traveled for 2 months along the Yangtze River for this reportage. In Gaoyang she was surprised by the local police at night in the hotel. After several hours of interrogation and a lot of luck, she was allowed to continue her journey – on the condition that she leave Chongking province immediately…