China’s central government has approved design plans for a water diversion project that will uproot tens of thousands of residents to channel the precious resource north to two provinces that sorely need it, state-owned China News Service reported Wednesday.
The plan will divert water from the Yangtze, China’s longest waterway, to the Huai River, which together with the Qin Mountains separates the country’s lush south and arid north. In addition to building 355 kilometers of shipping channels, the project will divert an estimated 4.3 billion cubic meters of water from the Yangtze by 2040 to bolster the water supply of some 14 cities and their surrounding areas in the neighboring provinces of Anhui and Henan.
According to a document issued by the ministries of water resources and transport, 87 billion yuan ($13.2 billion) will be invested in the six-year construction project.
The Huai River basin accommodates more than 12 percent of China’s population: With 600 residents per square kilometer, it’s the most densely populated waterway in the country. The amount of water available to the average basin-dweller is just one-fourth of the national average — or even less during the region’s frequent droughts.
Although it has 2.8 trillion cubic meters of water, China is nonetheless one of the most water-stressed countries in the world in terms of per capita availability — a problem that is only exacerbated by the scarce resource’s lopsided distribution. The northern part of China is home to one-third of the country’s total population but controls just one-fifth of its water.
As early as 1952, Mao Zedong espoused the idea of redistributing the nation’s water: “The south has an abundance of water, while the north is deficient,” he said. “If it’s possible, we’ll borrow some.” Five decades later, the State Council, China’s cabinet, approved the North-South Water Diversion Project, despite concerns about the plan’s cost-effectiveness and how it would affect aquatic ecology and local communities.
China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, reported in 2016 that 435,000 residents were displaced to complete the extensive undertaking, which has been supplying water to Beijing and its environs since 2014. By the second anniversary of the project’s completion, 70 percent of the capital’s tap water was being channeled from the country’s southern regions.
For the Yangtze-to-Huai plan, some 72,000 residents will have to be relocated — though specific provisions for this have yet to be announced.
Preliminary work on the project has already begun. At a December 2016 ceremony marking the beginning of construction, Zhang Tianpei, the deputy director of Anhui’s development and reform commission, said the project would be a boon to both local residents and the region’s aquatic ecosystems. “Diverting water north from the Yangtze River will ensure that northern Anhui can continue to irrigate its crops,” he added.
Contributions: David Paulk; editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Workers attend a ceremony marking the beginning of construction on the Yangtze-to-Huai water diversion project in Hefei, Anhui province, Dec. 29, 2016. Xiang Chunlei/VCG)