Dam Water in China: Water Losers

Along the Keriya River, one of twelve waterways in western China where dam construction began last year, the mood is weary and palpably tense. For those on the bank, what the dams will bring remains uncertain; what they have taken away is already great.

Construction camp along the Keriya River

New York Times journalist Jim Yardley writes, “[Large dams] lie at the uncomfortable center of China’s energy conundrum.” The construction of dams reduces the nation’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, yet it creates enormous human and environmental upheaval. None know this discomfort more than the millions of riverside peoples displaced by dam construction.

“I am a farmer,” a wrinkled man says in Uygur, the local language, “But now I work construction.” Like many of the men sleeping in canvas tents, he once grew millet and herded sheep downstream. His grandfather settled alongside the Keriya, furrowed trenches for irrigation, and eventually passed on the right to water, as is traditional among the Uygur, as a form of property to his son. (He inherited the water from his father.) However, as the river’s conquest by the hydroelectric project began, the water supply downstream dwindled, and the trenches grew clogged. No longer able to sustain his fields, or himself, this man joined on, instead, as a construction laborer with the project. Read More >