Chinese Three Gorges Dam: Is It an Ecological Disaster?

Shanghai—The Three Gorges Dam in China, known as the world’s largest, has long been a subject of controversy. The Chinese government has dismissed concerns from scientists and environmentalists, but recently, they have reluctantly acknowledged the potential environmental problems associated with the dam. The dam, located on the Yangtze River, is causing landslides, altering ecosystems, and endangering the millions living in its vicinity.

The dam was originally defended as a source of renewable energy and a means to prevent downstream floods. However, Chinese officials now recognize that the dam poses hidden dangers. The environmental impact of the dam is significant, with less rain, increased drought, and the potential for disease outbreaks. Experts describe the Three Gorges dam as the largest environmental change to date.

Unintended Consequences

The construction of the dam has caused various adverse effects. The forced relocation of millions of people to make way for the project has raised concerns about human rights. Geologists and ecologists have warned about the potential for landslides, the spread of waterborne diseases, and the loss of biodiversity. However, these concerns were ignored in the pursuit of harnessing the Yangtze River’s power.

Environmental Impact

The flooding caused by the dam has threatened the habitats of numerous animal and plant species. The dam floods habitats, disrupts water flow, and alters weather patterns, endangering various species unique to the region. Fish populations in the Yangtze River have been significantly affected, with overfishing and decreased flooding downstream. The decline of the baiji dolphin, now considered functionally extinct, is one of the devastating consequences.

The dam also disrupts ecosystems by fragmenting land bridges and creating small islands. Similar projects worldwide have shown that these changes lead to the loss of biological species. The long-term effects on animal and plant populations are still uncertain, but irreversible damage may have already occurred.

Implications for Public Health

Contrary to its initial purpose of preventing floods, the dam has contributed to droughts in central and eastern China. The reduced flow of fresh water has led to water shortages and encroachment of saltwater from the sea. This has resulted in increased jellyfish populations, threatening native species and exacerbating overfishing issues. The dam has also affected the spread of diseases like schistosomiasis, which has surged due to altered water flow and the unchecked breeding of disease-carrying snails.

Government Response

Recognizing the environmental and public health risks, the Chinese government has begun taking measures to address the issues. These efforts include fortifying landslide-prone areas, water cleanup projects, and consulting with environmental organizations. However, these actions may not be sufficient to prevent disaster. The government needs to implement a more comprehensive approach to protect species and control diseases.


Despite mounting concerns, China is still committed to hydropower as a crucial part of its renewable energy mix. However, the environmental and public health impacts of large dams cannot be ignored. The Chinese Three Gorges Dam serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the need to consider the long-term consequences of such projects. The dam’s impact on the environment, animals, plants, and public health is a stark reminder that sustainable development and preserving natural resources should be paramount.