South-North Water Diversion Project

China to divert waters, at people-moving cost

Erik Eckholm
The New York Times
November 15, 2001

BEIJING, Nov. 15— Construction will begin soon on a gigantic project to divert river waters from southern China to the north, where a growing scarcity of water is limiting development around cities like Beijing and Tianjin, officials said this week.

Work will start early next year and large parts of the plan should be completed by 2010 at a cost of at least $22 billion, said Zhang Jiyao, deputy minister of water resources.

Mr. Zhang, describing the long-debated project at a briefing on Wednesday, also said at least 370,000 people would have to be resettled, the highest official estimate yet for what may be the most incendiary aspect of the diversion scheme.

The full plan will take several decades and involve three major diversion routes. One close to the east coast will draw water from near the mouth of the Yangtze River and send it toward Tianjin. A middle route will take water toward Beijing. A western route will channel waters flowing off the Tibetan plateau into the upper stretches of the Yellow River, now so overused that it often runs dry before reaching the sea.

According to the latest plan, the eastern route — which makes use of the old Grand Canal and will essentially string together existing reservoirs and canals — is to be completed by 2010. A major portion of the middle route should also be finished by then, but will require a lengthy new canal and major expansion of an existing reservoir.

Work is not scheduled to begin for many years on the western route, which poses enormous engineering challenges.

Responding to critics, officials promised a crash effort to clean up pollution along the diversion paths. The government also pledged to impose stringent water conservation in the north, as well as stiff increases in the price of water.

Mr. Zhang downplayed the challenge of human resettlement, but the experience of another huge project, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, suggests it will be daunting.

The middle route will cause most of the displacement. The new canal will uproot 120,000 people, while the expansion of the Danjiangkou Reservoir, on the Han River, will force another 250,000 people from their homes, Mr. Zhang said.

Mr. Zhang said the two provinces most affected by the diversion project, Hubei and Henan, have already gained valuable experience resettling people displaced in dam projects. But the relocation of more than a million people for the Three Gorges Dam has been plagued by corruption, social conflict and the shortage of usable land.

This year, officials in Henan and Hebei warned of serious problems ahead as the Danjiangkou Dam is raised, to store more water for channeling north. They have said that as many as 400,000 people may be forced from their homes, many for the second or third time in recent decades, and that arable land in the region is already scarce.

Read the original article here.

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