May 30, 2006
Beijing revives decades-old plans to divert water northward from the flood-prone Yangtze River basin, despite controversy.
BEIJING – Severe drought in northern China has driven Beijing to revive decades-old plans to divert water northward from the flood-prone Yangtze River basin, the China Daily reported on Wednesday. The 100 billion yuan ($12.08 billion) project, first proposed by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1952, had been shelved and last discussed in 1995, the official newspaper said. Despite cost, pollution and feasibility concerns, perennial and worsening drought across northern China has prompted water officials to dust off blueprints for the mega-scheme, it said. “The project could be completed within the next six to eight years if construction is kicked off in the 2001-2005 period, the government’s Tenth Five-Year Plan,” the China Daily quoted a senior official with the Ministry of Water Resources as saying. Zhang Guoliang of the ministry’s South-to-North Water Transfer Planning and Design Administration, said the plan would channel some 50 billion cu m (1.77 trillion cu ft) of water northward along three routes in western, central and eastern China. Highlighting a severe imbalance between China’s flood-prone southern areas and the parched north, Zhang said about a trillion cu m (35 trillion cu ft) of water from the Yangtze ran into the sea each year while the Yellow River dries up before reaching its mouth. The China Daily acknowledged the scheme was “a controversial one second only to the on-going Three Gorges project”. From human rights to environmental damage to corruption, every aspect of the 204 billion yuan Three Gorges dam has faced foreign and domestic criticism. To make way for the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, about 1.13 million villagers along the Yangtze river will be resettled by 2009 and numerous ancient relics will be submerged. A series of severe sandstorms which hit Beijing in April and May alerted authorities to the urgency of the water crisis.