2017-08-18 12:18:43

More than 1.3 million Chinese living in flood-prone areas near the Yellow River, China’s second-longest waterway, will be relocated to improve their livelihoods, the central government announced Tuesday.

According to the relocation plans, some 600,000 people will be relocated in Shandong province, in eastern China, and 776,000 people will move in Henan, a neighboring province in central China. They live in areas between the river and its embankments, meaning their houses and fields are prone to flooding when the water level rises. Most of the people will be moved before 2020, the plans say.

Floods from the Yellow River are particularly damaging to crop-growing fields because the river carries a large amount of sediment. “The land that farmers have improved over the years by tilling, digging, and plowing is turned into desert,” academics wrote in 2010 about the impact of flooding on such areas. “When [farmers] plant again, the harvest is usually reduced or even nonexistent.”

In both provinces, flooding has affected residents for generations. For the areas included in Shandong’s relocation plan, the announcement said there have been more than 20 floods since 1950, affecting an accumulated 6.6 million people — meaning people affected multiple times have been counted more than once.

The Chinese government has set a goal of ridding the country of poverty by 2020. Relocating impoverished communities is a part of these plans, though academics have questioned the effectiveness of this approach. Many people in the regions identified for relocation live below the poverty line, defined as a yearly income of less than 2,300 yuan ($345). In 2015 alone, 82 villages in Shandong were classified as “poverty-stricken,” and about 43,000 people were put on file as “impoverished.”

According to Tuesday’s announcements, residents who move and whose houses are demolished will be compensated. They will have the choice whether they want to live in newly built communities or purchase a house elsewhere. Together, the two provincial plans have a total budget of about 40 billion yuan.

Relocation initiatives involving large numbers of people are common in China, usually centering around natural disasters or extensive construction projects. After a deadly landslide in 2010, northwestern Shaanxi province announced the planned relocation of 2.8 million people. Over the years, nearly 1.2 million residents in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region were moved to deal with the effects of climate change and industrialization. And most famously, over 1.3 million people were moved to make way for the reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A view of the Yellow River at a nature reserve in Dongying, Shandong province, July 21, 2017. VCG)