Beijing Water

Another Chinese government mega-project forces mega-relocation of citizens

(October 20, 2009) The Chinese government is once again making headlines for relocating its citizens—this time for the much-criticized South-to-North Water Diversion Project. According to Xinhua, the resettlement of 330,000 Chinese citizens in central China’s Hubei and Henan provinces has begun.

The South-to-North Water Diversion scheme, designed to supply drought-plagued Beijing with water, will be the most expensive project in China’s history—costing an estimated $62 billion, making it three times as expensive as official cost estimates for the Three Gorges Dam. When completed, the project will be three times longer than the railway to Tibet and channel more water than the Thames along three channels—each more than 600 miles long.

The cost of the project—already massive—is expected to escalate because of an endless number of band-aid projects that become necessary in order to fix unforeseen problems. According to Tian Lei, writing in the South Wind Window, the cost of building the south-north water transfer project has already doubled thanks to central government policy changes, commodity price hikes, investment restructuring, and demands for higher compensation by those who are being forced to move.

Chinese government: The great people-mover

According to Xinhua, some 330,000 residents in the Hubei and Henan provinces are being relocated from their homes near the Danjiangkou reservoir, where the central route of the project will divert water from the Yangtze River and its tributaries. Government officials say the resettlements will be completed in 2011.

Every resident will receive compensation for unmovable property, as well as an arable plot of land of 0.1 hectare per person in a newly built village. They’ll also receive an annual subsidy of 600 yuan (about 88 U.S. dollars) a person for 20 years.

But the project has already been ensnared in controversy, as earlier this year a number of relocated residents say officials forced them to sign a relocation agreement. They also said officials were offering to compensate them with less than half the land they currently use.

Bad habits die hard

The government’s announcement of relocations comes after months of delays surrounding the project, leaving many critics to speculate that officials were reconsidering it. As Tian pointed out, a number of local municipalities have begun focusing on seawater desalination as a solution to water shortages. Presently, the cost of desalination is less than 5 yuan RMB/cubic metres—compared to 20 yuan RMB/cubic metres estimated in the feasibility study for the south-north water project.

Furthermore, the government’s insistence on pursuing the water diversion project means it will continue in its policy to fund massive infrastructure projects that are both fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. Dai Qing, one of China’s foremost environmental critics, says the Chinese government has still not come clean about the true cost or environmental damage of the Three Gorges dam. According to Dai, the real cost of the Three Gorges dam is around 600-billion yuan—more than four times the figure cited by government officials.

“The key to addressing Beijing’s water crisis is not more engineering projects like the south-north water transfer scheme which require brute force to move people and to make citizens pay for the scheme,” says Patricia Adams, Executive Director of Probe International which published last year’s blockbuster report on Beijing’s Olympic water crisis with Dai Qing. “Smart watershed management with efficiency improvements in water supply and consumption using economic incentives and the rule of law will be a far more effective and sustainable way of solving Beijing’s water crisis in the long run,” she adds.

Probe International, October 20, 2009

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