Beijing Water

Migrants bear sacrifice for China’s south-north water diversion project

Li Zhihui and Xiong Jinchao
December 9, 2009

DANJIANGKOU, Hubei, (Xinhua) — More than 760 residents of Junxian County in the Danjiangkou Reservoir area on Tuesday began new lives 300 km away with uncertainty and hope.

They have been moved to new homes in central China’s Hubei Province to make way for the giant south-to-north water diversion project.

They were among 330,000 migrants expected to be relocated by 2014 for the multi-million-dollar project, which is designed to channel water from southern regions, mainly the Yangtze, China’s longest river, to the arid north, including Beijing.


Sitting on the border of Hubei and Henan provinces, the Danjiangkou reservoir is the water source for the central route of the project.

Since the 1990s, farmers in the reservoir area have been expecting to move imminently for the project, which will raise the dam level from its previous 157 meters above sea level to 176 meters, to store water for Henan and Hebei provinces as well as Beijing and Tianjin cities. Construction of new houses, roads and power grids have been suspended since then.

For almost 20 years, their lives have been on hold as the scheduled completion of the project moved from 2008 to 2010 and now 2014.

“My kitchen collapsed six years ago,” said Li Yuanchun, 51, from the Wugumiao Village, Danjiangkou City. “But I never built a new one as the government would not compensate me for new buildings.”

For Chen Yuming, another villager, life has been waiting to move. He earned 40,000 to 50,000 yuan a year tending more than a hectare of orange trees, but the walls and roofs of his mud-brick home were cracked.

Li and Chen, as well 28 other households in the village, were scheduled to move to Shayang County, about 300 km away, next year.

Young men found marriage nigh on impossible as women in other townships were reluctant to accept the village’s poor homes and uncertain future.

All these problems stemmed from China’s water shortage: water resources per capita are just a quarter of the world average. The northern region is only one fifth of the national level.

In 2002, construction began on the long-planned water transfer project, which was expected to benefit about 300 million people in north China.

The diversion will cut hydropower generation in Danjiangkou City. Many firms from coastal areas cancelled investment plans because of a lack of cheap electricity, says Tian Liqi, deputy director of the city environment bureau.

As a state-level poor city, Danjiangkou has rejected lots of projects with environmental risks, he said. “We want to develop our economy and create jobs for our people, but the priority is to protect the water quality in the reservoir.”

With few factories to work in, residents plant orange trees to earn a living, and more importantly, to protect the eco-system in the reservoir area. The trees increase forest coverage and prevent water and soil loss.

However, growers often suffer falling sales or price dives in the unstable market.

Farmers say a kilogram of oranges sells for just 40 to 60 fen in the good times.

Last year, an orange worm infestation broke out in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, affecting sales across the country. Tons of oranges remain unsold, and growers in Danjiangkou went bankrupt.


For many villagers, their new homes were less developed than the old.

“We have good land and a good environment here. We can grow oranges and vegetables, which can bring in more than 20,000 yuan a year,” says Guo Qinghong, deputy head of Suijiangwan Village. “But everything has to start from zero once we move to a new place.”

The villagers have a deep emotional attachment to their homes. When the Danjiangkou dam was built five decades ago, tens of thousands of villagers had to move, often in forced and hurried evacuations for little compensation, says Liu Jiashun, head of Danjiangkou resettlement bureau.

“Now they must prepare to shift again, and they fear more suffering.”

Danjiangkou City has almost 100,000 people to be moved by 2014.The first group was relocated on Aug. 20 this year. Many farmers wept on the way to the new location.

“Villagers have accepted sacrifices for the need of the country,” Liu says. “Now the resettlement work puts people first and we’ve made specific plans to meet farmers’ needs during their relocation.”

The government promised to build 24 square meters of housing for each migrant, including infants, and to compensate for nearly everything from trees and vegetables to land and tombs of their ancestors.

More than 1,000 city officials were sent door knocking to explain the policies, check properties for compensation and solicit demands and complaints, Liu says.

Some officials lived with villagers for months and helped them do the farm work. Some farmers were moved and some decided to leave.

Yuan Laihua, head of Niuhe Township, cannot remember how many times he took farmers to view new locations in Shayang County hundreds of kilometers away.

“Farmers can decide their new house plans. If they are dissatisfied with the site of their new homes, we try to look for better places,” Yuan says. “Everything we do is to make sure villagers could have stable and prosperous lives.”


Ding Guangyan, 26, and 380 other farmers moved to Huigang Township in Zaoyang City in the fertile valley formed by the Hanjiang River, a tributary of Yangtze, in August.

With the resettlement compensation granted by the government, he built a two-story home, but life was harder than he had expected.

“Before we moved here, we were not worried about food as we grew rice and vegetables ourselves, but now we have to buy them in the market.

“Everything is expensive,” Ding says. “We have to wait until next year to plant on the new farm.”

But he has one achievement: he married a girl from a neighboring village 100 days after he moved.

“We have similar customs and accents to the villagers here,” Ding says. “People here are all warm to us.”

For a 64-year-old migrant surnamed Li, her hopes lie in her grandson and granddaughter.

“My husband and I are old. We have spent more than 6,000 yuan in the last three months. Who will care us after the government compensation runs out?” she asks.

But she enjoys seeing the children get a good education.

“The school is near our new home and has better teachers. My children are happy to study there,” she says. “I hope they can enter university and live good lives.”

Internet commentators have called for the construction of a museum to commemorate the migrants’ sacrifice and contribution to the water project.

“Everyone’s name should be carved so that those benefiting from the project remember them,” said a post on the, a website run by the Henan Daily.

The proposal was widely supported. “Each individual migrant should be cared for and respected,” said a post from “Memory of the Central Plains.”

Ding agrees. “Our sacrifice is worthy as it is for the need of the country.”

He plans to find a job in southern Guangdong Province after the Spring Festival to support his parents who will start doing farm work next year.

“As long as we can see hope in the future, we are ready to move.”

Read the original story here.

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