3 Giant Dams affecting the World food supply Part 2 of 4
Dam Number 1 China’s 3 Gorges Dam, Continent: Asia. Completed in 2006. World’s largest hydro electric dam. 600 feet high. 1.5 miles across. Reservoir 370 miles long. Impounds Asia’s longest river the Yangtze. Raised water level in the Gorge 300 feet. Located West of Shanghai/north of Hainan Island. About where those coordinates intersect on The Yangtze.
Some background: When I was a kid, 36 million Chinese died in a man-made famine under Mao Tse Tung* That’s why, in November of 2021, when the Chinese government advised the masses they should put away a little extra food at home in case of emergency, the world’s largest population went into panic buying mode. Cleared the grocery shelves, raised food prices as much as 30 percent in places, and impacted food prices around the world.
At the same time, China is the world’s largest food importer. To prepare for what’s coming, the Chinese government (which represents 20 percent of the world population and has a very strong economy) has bought up more than half the world’s grain reserves. By mid-2022 USDA predicts China will hold 69 percent of the world corn reserve, 60 percent of the rice, 51 percent of the wheat. What this means (again) is that as available grain supplies disappear, poor countries will have to pay more for what’s left. A lot more. (Estimates were 20 percent more even before the Russia/Ukraine war drove estimated increases in potatoes and wheat up 30 and 50 percent respectively). Food prices will rise world wide. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork. Part of China’s grain buy-up is to replenish it’s pig population after half of China’s pigs died from African Swine Fever epidemic in 2019.
The third component of China’s plan to avoid famine is building the largest, most ambitious, water diversion project in human history. Humongous as it is, the Three Gorges Dam is only a small part of China’s ‘South to North Water Diversion Project,’ which will pull water all the way from the Tibetan Plateau to Beijing.
Water diversion projects, by definition, bring water to places at the expense of dewatering other places. In the case of the South to North Water Diversion, fresh water will be pumped to northern China that used to flow to countries south of China. Ability to grow food in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and others, will be compromised. Which will affect food prices not only there but around the world.
Three Gorges’ risks and effects on world food supply
The reservoir behind this dam is so massive it measurably affects our earth’s rotation. Like all huge reservoirs, the weight behind Three Gorges Dam deforms the earth’s crust the way big glaciers and ice sheets do. This causes small earthquakes and landslides into the reservoir. Turns out there’s a seismic fault line under the reservoir that no one knew was there until it began to fill, causing the earth to compress. In addition, every year the Yangtze deposits tens of millions of tons of sediment, which being heavier than water, sinks to the bottom of the reservoir as the river slows there, adding to the weight while decreasing water holding capacity.
Another concern for all dams is seasonal flooding upstream which increases stress on the structure. In 2020 major flooding during big rains wreaked havoc in central China. Hundreds drowned, over a million were displaced. Water pouring down the Yangtze from tributaries hundreds of miles upstream roared into the Three Gorges reservoir. Engineers and politicians cheered the marvelous structural integrity of Three Gorges Dam which held it own against more than a billion of tons of water, which is amazing, but many people noted that there was enough pressure to deform the dam. 2021 saw major flooding again in Central China. (Flooding is exacerbated by China’s building boom which has paved over so much ground that used to absorb flood waters. )
If this dam should fail, either due to flooding, earthquake, structural fatigue, or some other reason, a wall of water would demonstrate the power of the Yangtze all the way to Shanghai, drowning millions of people along with millions of acres of cropland, livestock, and buildings, including food warehouses. There are multiple simulations on the computer of what this disaster would look like during the day it would take the reservoir to reach the sea**. China could reasonably be expected to respond to such a calamity by going on the world market and buying all the food it could to replace what was lost. Again, depleting world food stocks and causing double digit increases in food prices, especially in poor countries.
* Some researchers claim as much as 10 million more or 10 million less died in the Great Famine. 36 million is from Yang Jisheng’s book: Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1963 (2012 edition) 629 pages. which is extensively documented and, I think most reliable.
**Chinese officials say the dam is safe and claim simulations of the dam failing are the work of rabble rousers in other countries who dislike China.
12.28.2021 China Panic-Hoards half of the world’s grain supply amid threats of collapse. Peak Oil News and Message Boards.
01.04.2022 One reason for rising food prices? Chinese Hoarding. Bloomberg by Adam Minter
08.20.2020 3 Gorges Dam Collapse Simulation, YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLNn1iAfiuE Simulation starts at 3 minutes)
08.21.2020 After Covid China’s leaders face new challenges from flooding New York TimesI by Steven Lee Meyers https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/world/asia/china-flooding-sichuan-chongqing.html