IMAGE: TOWN BUILT FOR DISPLACED RESIDENTS
Ng Han Guan  /  AP
A farmer walks past a town in Guizhou, China, constructed to house residents relocated due to the Three Gorges Dam.
updated 10/12/2007 3:29:33 PM ET 2007-10-12T19:29:33

Chinese authorities plan to move even more rural residents from behind the Three Gorges Dam in recognition of environmental and economic problems spawned by the giant project, state media and the local government reported Friday.

The number of people to be moved was unclear and officials in the Chongqing region said some reports on the project were incorrect.

The official Xinhua News Agency, citing earlier reports, put the figure to be moved as high as 4 million, adding to the 1.4 million already forced to relocate as a result of the project.

However, other reports put the figure much lower, with the newspaper 21st Century Business Herald saying 2.3 million would be moved to urban areas by 2020.

An outline of the plan posted on the Chongqing government Web site said the region's urban population was expected to grow by about 4 million between 2010 and 2020. The plan said "environmental relocation" would be carried out in areas surrounding the reservoir where the environment was particularly vulnerable, but gave no figures.

Wang Qing, an official with the Chongqing Development and Reform Commission, said people would be "encouraged and guided to move," but didn't say how many.

Hu Jihong, the commission's office director, also said there were incorrect reports, adding: "We think it's not worth commenting."

Relocating residents for the controversial dam has been a sensitive issue, with some of those moved complaining of corruption and saying their new homes offered little opportunity to make a living.

The 21st Century Business Herald said families targeted under the new plan included some who had already been moved once to make way for the dam. Those communities, however, were often scattered, with poor farmland and few public services.

"These communities would never be able to establish a solid economic base," the paper said.

Chongqing's plan calls for the establishment of a green belt surrounding the reservoir to curb pollution and prevent further erosion of the Yangtze's banks.

The announcement follows an unusually frank government assessment last month that China could face a catastrophe if it fails to quickly stop environmental problems caused by the dam.

The dam is China's showcase engineering triumph and the world's biggest hydropower project. However, authorities are also showing a growing recognition of serious environmental problems related to the project.

The dam has been relentlessly promoted as a cure-all for devastating flooding on the Yangtze River, and a source of clean power for a nation attempting to wean itself off its heavy reliance on coal.

Begun in 1993, the Three Gorges dam project, with an overall cost of $23.6 billion, has forged ahead with the backing of the Communist leadership despite complaints about its expense, environmental concerns and the forced relocations.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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