Will the Big Dam Damn China?

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Is it a monument to man's ingenuity, or an ecological
and cultural disaster waiting to happen? You'll continue to mull this question after
viewing Three Gorges: The Biggest Dam in the World.

Behind this unfortunately boring title is a fascinating
documentary on Discovery Channel spotlighting a controversial flood-control project that
will rival the Great Wall of China in scope. But the show is not just for engineers or
collectors of factoids, although a plethora of the latter is shoveled up during the hour.
Instead, the producers marvel at what is hoped will be an engineering wonder, but they
also depict the ecological consequences of the successful completion of the dam.

The Chinese determined earlier this decade that the nation
needs to tame the Yangtze River, which is known through the continent as "The
Dragon" for its tendency to rise up and smite land dwellers.

About every 10 years, the waterway is the source of
flooding so devastating that the aftermath threatens to destabilize the entire economy of
the nation. This decade alone, 300,000 were killed in floods that also inundated
China's grain belt. So the nation will spend $28 billion on a gigantic dam, which is
slated to be complete by 2009.

The documentary starts out with the air of an industrial
film: You see hills blasted, crane operators describing their jobs and explanations of the
benefits of hydroelectric power versus coal power. But then, the program shifts to the
project's impact.

The 1.3-mile-long dam will create a reservoir so big that
more than 2 million villagers must be relocated. Dozens of cities and villages will be
torn down before they are flooded and become hazards to shipping. Documentarians use
computer graphics and animation to show how the dam will work and operate when it is
completed.

Despite the repressed nature of Chinese society, the
producers gained interviews with a few powerless citizens who at least got to tell camera
crews how wrenching it will be to leave their ancestral homes of 400 years.

During one hour, the producers succinctly summarize the
battle of man versus nature, without taking sides. The future will decide the bout.

Three Gorges: The Biggest Dam in the World, narrated by
actress Jodie Foster, has debuted on Discovery. Check your local listings for repeat
showings.

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