China warns of faulty dams danger, plans repairs
BEIJING (Reuters) - Just under half of China's nearly 90,000 dams are dangerously unstable and need urgent repair, the government said on Tuesday, unveiling a three-year plan to do just that costing 27 billion yuan ($3.7 billion).
"Over the last several years, dams have had a very important effect on socio-economic development," Deputy Water Resources Minister Jiao Yong told a meeting carried live on central government Web site www.gov.cn.
"But many of these dams were built between the 1950s and 1970s, under conditions at the time which restricted objectivity," he added.
"The design and construction quality of many of these dams contain congenital deficiencies, and they are now old and in serious need of repairs. A large number have hidden dangers."
Chairman Mao Zedong, who died in 1976, ordered the country to develop at any cost, putting special emphasis on large-scale projects such as steelworks and dams.
Mao declared "man must conquer nature," and during his time in power engineers were feted for ambitious projects that sought to remold the landscape in pursuit of economic progress.
But many projects were hastily and poorly built, with little regard for the environment. In 1975, tens of thousands of residents of Henan province in central China died after two dams collapsed. That disaster was revealed to the public only in recent years.
Jiao said that of the roughly 87,000 dams in China, more than 37,000 were in a dangerous state.
"As the global climate heats up, weather extremes like torrential rain increases and as society and the economy develops downstream of dams, the potential danger gets greater and greater," he said.
"The huge number of dangerous dams has already become a weak link and unstable factor in flood prevention," Jiao said.
Vice Premier Hui Liangyu added that over the next three years the government would spend an annual average of more than 9 billion yuan to fix the problem.
"The task is very arduous, and work highly strenuous," Hui said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Roger Crabb)