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Banqiao dam failure in 1975, Henan, China

The Banqiao Reservoir Dam in Henan province failed in 1975 caused more casualties than any other dam failure in history at an estimated 230,000 deaths and 11 million displaced. The dam was later rebuilt.


In response to severe flooding and to ensure electrical power generation, China built the Banqiao Dam in the Huai river basin of the Henan province. It was completed in 1952. However, they never imagined the dangers that would follow. [1] Due to construction and engineering errors, numerous cracks in the dam appeared after completion and were repaired by Soviet engineers. Chen Xing, one of China’s foremost hydrologists, was involved in the design and was a vocal critic of the dam’s final construction as well as the government’s policy. Chen had recommended twelve sluice gates for the dam, but only five were installed. Chen was involved in other dam projects, but due to his continuing voicing of safety concerns related to design and construction practices, he was removed from the projects.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Banqiao dam failure in 1975, Henan, China
State or province:Henan
Location of conflict:Zhumadian
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The dam was completed in 1952 as part of a campaign to “Harness the Huai River” and its tributaries after severe flooding in previous years. During the 1950s, over 100 dams and reservoirs were built just in Zhumadian Prefecture of Henan Province along with Banqiao. When the Great Leap Forward began in 1958, the campaign was held up as a national model to “give primacy to water accumulation for irrigation." [3]. The total capacity of the reservoir was 492 million m3 with 375 million m3 reserved for flood storage. The dam was made of clay and was 24.5 meters high. The maximum discharge of the reservoir was 1742 m3/s. Cracks in the dam and sluice gates appeared after completion due to construction and engineering errors. They were repaired with the advice from Soviet engineers and the new design, dubbed the iron dam, was considered unbreakable. Chen Xing (陈惺), one of China's foremost hydrologists, involved in the design of the dam, was also a vocal critic of the government's dam building policy, which involved many dams in the basin.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:11,000,000
Start of the conflict:08/08/1975
Relevant government actors:Government of China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Chen Xing, one of China’s foremost hydrologists, was involved in the design and was a vocal critic of the dam
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Media based activism/alternative media
Asking for help after the disaster had happened. It seems that news of the terrible event were silenced in China.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsDam failure
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
Other Health impactsThe largest dam failure ever, over two hundred thousand deaths.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Little was done to repair the enormous environmental and social damage. This was the largest dam failure in the world. The dam was rebuit.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:After the failure of the dam and the tragedy, the dam was rebuilt. There was no possible compensation for hundreds of thousands dead or displaced.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Patrick McCully, Silenced Rivers (description of the Banqiao disaster), p. 115-117.

[1] William Tyrrell, Banqiao Dam Failure. 20th July 2016
[click to view]

[click to view]

[3]The Forgotten Legacy of the Banqiao Dam Collapse. 2013-02-08. The Economic Observer (with a summary of current development in dam building in China, 40 years afterwards).
[click to view]

[4] News China. Dams in Distress. In 1975, over 60 dams collapsed after a rainstorm in Zhumadian city, Henan Province, causing the world’s worst ever technological disaster. Recent revelations about the incident have brought scrutiny to thousands of potentially unstable dams in China. October 2012 Issue | by Xie Ying
[click to view]

People’s Daily,30 years afterwards, 1 Oct 2005
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

A video simulating the Banqiao dam failure disaster
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:jma, EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2842
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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