BEIJING (AP) _ Corruption and severe pollution problems plague China’s controversial Three Gorges dam project, but they can be overcome, a local official said Thursday.
The dam on the Yangtze River _ the world’s largest hydroelectric project _ is expected to displace 1.3 million people. But $605.3 million in funds to resettle those residents was embezzled in a case involving 14 officials, a January report by the National Audit Office said.
Criminal proceedings have begun against some suspects, and others are still under investigation, said Gan Yuping, a vice chairman of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee. Gan said Thursday that 80 percent of the money squandered by corrupt officials has been recovered.
Police were continuing investigations, he told reporters.
``Certainly more cases will be discovered,″ said Gan, who is also vice mayor of Chongqing, a city located upstream from the dam.
An investigation by a sociologist released in March 1998 found that relocation efforts were faltering due to widespread popular resistance, official deception and corruption.
Some 550,000 people must be moved before 2003, when the waters of the Yangtze River are scheduled to begin rising and the dam’s first 14 turbines begin operation. The rest have to move by 2009, when the project’s 350-mile-long reservoir is filled.
Critics of the project say heavy industrial effluent and sewage will make the huge lake to be created by the dam a massive cesspool of waste. Gan defended the project’s environmental impact, although he admitted that Chongqing was alarmed by the potential water pollution problem posed by the dam.
``We really do have a problem. It’s especially bad in the summer when the river floods,″ Gan said.
He said central government agencies were researching ways to reduce pollution and expressed confidence that they would find a solution.