New Delhi | Sun, April 11, 2021 | 09:37 pm
China is planning a mega dam in Tibet that will produce three times the amount of electricity produced by the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest power station, causing concern among environmentalists and in neighboring India. The bridge will cross the Brahmaputra River just before it leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, spanning the world’s longest and deepest canyon at a height of over 1,500 meters. The project in Tibet’s Medog County is projected to dwarf the world-record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, with an annual capacity of 300 billion kilowatts.
It is stated in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which was unveiled in March at a rubber-stamp congress of the country’s top legislators. However, the proposal lacked specifics, such as a deadline or a budget. Two other projects are far upstream on the river, which is known in Tibetan as the Yarlung Tsangpo, and six more are in the pipeline or under construction. The “super-dam,” on the other hand, is in a class by itself.
The Tibetan local government signed a “strategic partnership deal” with PowerChina, a state-owned construction firm specializing in hydroelectric projects, in October of last year. A month later, Yan Zhiyong, the CEO of PowerChina, gave the Communist Youth League, China’s ruling party’s youth wing, a sneak peek at the initiative. Yan, ecstatic about “the world’s richest area in terms of hydroelectric energy,” clarified that the dam will be driven by the river’s massive drop at this point.
Beijing may justify the massive project as a greener alternative to fossil fuels, but it runs the risk of provoking strong opposition from environmentalists, similar to the Three Gorges Dam, which was constructed between 1994 and 2012. Upstream, the Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million people. “Building a dam the size of the super-dam is definitely a very bad idea for several reasons,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s electricity, water, and sustainability program. The region is known for its seismic activity, but it also has a special biodiversity.
According to Eyler, the dam would obstruct fish migration as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream. Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India, noted that there are both ecological and political threats. “Those areas have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage,” he told AFP, “and any dam construction will cause ecological devastation and submergence of parts of that region.” “Many local residents will be forced to leave their ancestral homes,” he said, adding that the project would allow Han Chinese workers to migrate, which will “gradually increase the number of Han Chinese jobs
According to experts, the Chinese Communist Party practically controls the sources of most of South Asia’s water supply. Last month, political scientist Brahma Chellaney wrote in the Times of India, “Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they enable China to exploit its upstream Tibet-centered control over the most important natural resource.” The dangers of seismic activity would also make it a “ticking water bomb” for downstream people, he cautioned.
In response to the dam proposal, the Indian government has proposed building a new dam on the Brahmaputra to supplement its own water supplies. “There is still plenty of time to negotiate with China about the super-future dam’s and its consequences,” Eyler said. “If the outcome is poor, India will build a dam downstream.”