South-North Water Diversion Project

China villagers moved to quench the urban thirst

Michael Bristow
March 3, 2010

When Chinese farmer Ding Guangyan married his fiancee last year, local officials quickly seized on the event’s propaganda value.

Mr Ding had only just arrived in the area after being forced to move with his family to make way for a massive engineering scheme.

In total about 330,000 people are relocating as part of the project, which will eventually see water transferred from the wet south to the dry north, where it is desperately needed.

It is the biggest mass migration in China since the Three Gorges Dam project, under which some 1.5 million people have been relocated.

Publicising Mr Ding’s marriage would show that the recently arrived migrants were already settling into their new lives – so the wedding made the local newspapers.

New homes

But the real story behind the family’s move in Hubei province is more complex; the wedding was good news, but their move has been fraught with difficulties.

Mr Ding’s family have complaints about the new home, the lack of work and the corruption they claim has become associated with their migration.

The South-to-North Water Diversion Project is a multi-billion dollar national scheme aimed at solving northern China’s chronic water shortages.

A series of canals, pipes and pumping stations are being built along three routes in eastern, central and western China.

As part of the central route, Danjiangkou reservoir, which straddles the provinces of Henan and Hubei, is being expanded.

Tens of thousands of people are currently being moved from around the reservoir because their homes and land will soon be under water.

Ding Guangyan and his family – six people in all – are just one group of people affected by the scheme.

They were forced to move last August from the village of Guanmenyan, on the shores of the reservoir in Hubei, to a purpose-built complex near the city of Zaoyang, several hours drive away.

The government gave them compensation, which they used to buy a new house that was built for them, and gave them a small plot of land to farm.

The upheaval has not been without its good points, such as the wedding between 27-year-old Mr Ding and his new wife, Liu Yaping, 22.

They married just a few months after their first meeting – through an intermediary – in an event recorded by the Hubei Daily newspaper.

Yao Guangwen, in charge of Zaoyang’s bureau for migrants, told the newspaper: “This shows that migrants from Danjiangkou are beginning to really integrate, and are living in peace and working contentedly.”

Family divided

But what the state-controlled newspaper did not report was any of the family’s numerous concerns or difficulties, problems they readily told the BBC when we visited.

In Guanmenyan they earned a reasonable income growing oranges, but in their new home they have to grow wheat, which is not nearly as profitable.

Mr Ding and his elder brother, Ding Guangyu, may soon have to travel to one of China’s booming coastal cities to find work, splitting up the family.

They also claim that the local government in their former village has sold their old house and kept the money.

“We haven’t received a penny. I feel very sad about it,” said Ding Guangyu, who planned to head back to his former village to try to persuade local officials to hand over the cash.

But this family’s problems will not derail the overall project.

Back in Guanmenyan, in Junxian Township, other residents are preparing to pack up. In total, more than a third of the village’s 3,000-odd people are moving.

One of them is Liu Zhengyun, a farmer who has grown oranges in the area’s fertile hills for the best part of three decades.

Like many of those next on the list to move, he is not sure what kind of place the government is preparing for him and his eight other family members.

“No matter how good officials say the land is, I haven’t seen it yet, so how can I judge?” he said.

And uprooting a life will present Mr Liu with other difficulties: he is about to lose his friend, neighbour and chess partner, who is not moving with the next batch of migrants.

Local officials are trying to persuade Mr Liu and others to move by asking them to sacrifice their personal interests for the national good.

But money is also a factor, admitted Ming Tingsong, an official from Junxian’s propaganda department.

“Most of the migrants are willing to move. Why? Because the compensation for their land and house is pretty good – and they’ll get more money after they move,” he said.

But whether they want to go or not, the farmers expecting to relocate have little chance to change their fate.

The water diversion project is already years behind schedule – the central route will not be ready until at least 2014 – but too much has been invested for it to be stopped now.

Directed at migrants, a slogan tied above Guanmenyan’s main street makes this clear. It reads: “Whether you move earlier or later, you will all have to move.”

Read the original story here.

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