Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have begun the mass evacuation of around 100,000 people living near the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, warning that their homes are at risk from "constant landslides."
Preparations have already begun to move around 20,000 residents of the province's Baodong county by the end of the year, in an operation that will cost the government around U.S. $87 million, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.
The rest of the affected residents will move within the next three to five years, according to the ministry of land and resources.
Last year, Beijing admitted that there were "urgent" problems with the world's largest hydroelectric power project, which began in 1993 amid fierce criticism from environmentalists, senior officials, and overseas rights groups.
In a May 2011 statement, China's cabinet said: "There are problems that must be urgently resolved in the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and preventing geological disasters."
The dam also had "impacted" downstream shipping, irrigation, and water supplies, the statement said.
Overseas environmental groups have pointed to problems with large hydroelectric dams like the Three Gorges project for many years, saying they are economical in times of drought and a potential safety risk in times of extreme floods.
Around 1.3 million people were originally displaced to make way for the 185-meter Three Gorges dam—completed in 2006—and a reservoir that stretches more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) along the middle reaches of China's Yangtze River and which reached the maximum depth of 175 meters (575 feet) in October 2010.
The mass relocation of farming communities in the dam's catchment area has led to social conflict, with many relocated families saying they are unhappy in their new accommodations, and others saying they have never been given the promised amounts of compensation.
Those who attempt to complain, or return to nonsubmerged areas near the project, are often subjected to detentions, beatings, or other forms of official harassment.
You Jingyou, a Fujian-based rights activist with an engineering background, said the current problems in Hubei resulted from the raising of the water levels in the reservoir to maximum levels in December 2010.
"When they raised the water level in the reservoir, the water table in the land surrounding the reservoir also rose," You said. "This means that sloping land that was previously stable has now become unstable."
"This has led to an increase in the number of geological disasters," he said.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.