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The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"Concerns have been raised about its environmental impact"
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Sunday, 1 July, 2001, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
China builds second biggest dam
Flooding at Junshan, near the banks of Dongting Lake, in Hunan Province
It is hoped the dam will help prevent flooding
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China starts work on Sunday on a new hydroelectric dam project which official media say will be the second largest in Asia.

As in the case of the Three Gorges dam concerns have been raised about its environmental impact

The dam, in China's south-western Guangxi region, will cost around $3.2bn and will take eight years to complete.

An estimated 75,000 people will be moved to make way for the project, which is second in size only to the giant Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River.

It will be an important source of power for China, but as in the case of the Three Gorges dam - the world's largest - concerns have been raised about its environmental impact.

National grid

The new dam will be built at Longtan on the Hongshui River - a tributary of the Pearl River which flows into the sea near Hong Kong.

It is one of 10 new hydroelectric dams planned for the river.

China is seeking to create a national electricity grid to harness energy in the resource-rich but sparsely populated south-west, and transfer it to the densely populated east coast.

The project is also a key part of government plans to develop western China.

Deprived area

Officials hope the dam, which will generate its first electricity in 2007, will bring economic benefits to Guangxi, one of the country's poorest regions.

There is no foreign funding for the project - money has been raised by power companies in Guangxi and neighbouring Guizhou province.

As with the much larger Three Gorges dam currently being built on the Yangtze River to the north, officials say this project will help with flood control and improve upstream navigation.

Environmentally unsound

But local officials quoted by China's state media have said the dam could lead to the silting up of the river.

Lhasa in Tibet
China is trying to develop its impoverished west, including Tibet
They say deforestation in the area has caused severe erosion and power stations downstream are already facing serious problems because of silting, and they warn that insufficient funds have been set aside to tackle the problem.

Environmentalists and, more recently, some delegates to China's legislature have issued similar warnings about the Three Gorges project, which will start generating electricity in 2003.

Its final cost is officially put at more than $21bn dollars.

The Three Gorges project has also been dogged by corruption in the relocation of more than one million people to make way for the dam.

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China lays Tibet railtrack
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