South-North Water Diversion Project

China plans rapid water diversion

The Guardian (U.K.)
April 6, 2006

China will speed up a “mega-project” to divert billions of cubic metres of water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River, despite serious concern about the environmental consequences.

China will speed up a “mega-project” to divert billions of cubic metres of water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River, despite serious concern about the environmental consequences, officials said in Beijing yesterday. One of the three routes through which the water is to be diverted requires the evacuation of 220,000 people, while the water on a second route will be badly polluted, the officials admitted. But they insisted that the “complexities” of the project could be handled and that no time should be wasted. “It is a strategic project to optimise water resources, designed to direct surplus water to the north,” said Chen Bangzhu, head of a committee discussing the project at this week’s meeting of the national people’s congress – China’s annual parliament. Since central China has more water than it needs, it is thought that diverting some will alleviate the rapidly worsening shortages in the north. Water shortage is a particularly sensitive issue in Beijing, where the water table is falling rapidly while demand grows as living standard improve. An increasing number of sandstorms sweeping into the capital from Mongolia is a vivid and constant reminder of how large areas to the north have been reduced to desert. Environmentalists have warned that large-scale tampering with water systems may have untold adverse effects, and that much more effort should be made to save water first. A study of Chinese water policy by an Australian scholar, Gavan McCormack, warns that “the ecological implications … are completely unforeseeable”. The project, written into the new five-year plan, will be “as huge as the Three Gorges Dam project”, one committee member said. It will cost at least ¬£11.6bn over the next 10 to 15 years.

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