China to embark on massive water diversion project

The government has announced the construction of China’s largest water diversion project, which will channel water from the mighty Yangtze to the parched north.

The Ministry of Water Resources made the announcement on 15 January with construction set to begin early next year, reviving the five decades-old dream of Chairman Mao Zedong. The 140 billion yuan ($17 billion) plan is being brought to fruition now in a desperate attempt to supply water as soon as possible to the water-starved north, containing one-third of China’s total population, gross national product, farmland and output of grain.

The cabinet is expected to approve construction of the first phase of the plan, a 2,400 km (1,500 mile) channel through eastern China, late this year, said Zhang Guoliang, one of the project’s principal architects. By 2015, the project is expected to have diverted some 16 billion cubic metres of water from the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, into areas north of the Yellow River, including the major cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang. At present, some 400 of China’s 668 cities are believed to suffer from water shortages.

The project also involves two other channels through the centre and west of the country, linked to other major Chinese rivers, the Yellow and the Huai, and upon its completion will transfer up to 48 billion cubic metres of water a year, Zhang reportedly said. However, further research will be necessary for the difficult western route, passing through some of China’s most mountainous terrain.

Zhang said he hopes that 60% of the budget for the project can be granted by the central government with the rest by localities that will benefit, while the estimated cost of the water from the project’s trunk canal is no less than 1.6 yuan (US$0.20) per cubic metre, the rough equivalent of the present water price in Beijing and Tianjin.

Second only in construction scale to the $25 billion Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze, (see related story), the project has aroused public concern about its merits and the quality of price of water in the north. The much-criticised dam project has made further headlines in the same week as the announcement of the diversion project as state-controlled media revealed that one-third of the people forced from their homes by the Three Gorges Dam project, some 100,000 people, have said they are not satisfied with the locations chosen by the authorities. In total, 1.1 million are to have been evacuated by 2009, the date set for completion.

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