Sunday, October 18, 2009

330k to be Relocated

Beijing is being proactive in getting water from its saturated south to its parched north. The move has significant costs though.

From The Xinhua News:

Image from

ZHENGZHOU, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- A resettlement project involving 330,000 people living in central China's Hubei and Henan provinces has started to make way for China's south-north water diversion project, according to resettlement authorities in Henan Sunday.

These people will be relocated from their homes near the Danjiangkou reservoir, where sluice will be built to divert water from the Yangtze River to thirsty north China regions including Beijing, Tianjin, Henan and Hebei.


The Chinese government has issued preferential policies to help compensate for the resettlers' relocation losses. For instance, apart from compensation for unmovable property with the old home, each family to be relocated will be allotted new arable land in the newly built village according to a standard of 0.1 hectare per person, plus an annual subsidy of 600 yuan (about 88 U.S. dollars) a person for 20 years, according to Duan Shiyao, deputy chief of Hubei Provincial Resettlement Bureau.

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The end of this project - providing water to cities that are desperately in need of relief - is noble. But the means - relocating hundreds of thousands of poor farmers - are rough.

A couple years ago on my old (and now defunct) blog, I put a link to a really fascinating story on the the development of waterless north China. I'll link up to that article again now.

From The New York Times:
Hundreds of feet below ground, the primary water source for this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running dry. The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater.

Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising. A new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. Another half-built complex, the Arc de Royal, is rising above one of the lowest points in the city's water table.

''People who are buying apartments aren't thinking about whether there will be water in the future,'' said Zhang Zhongmin, who has tried for 20 years to raise public awareness about the city's dire water situation.

For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China's galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China -- even as demand keeps rising everywhere.


A century or so ago, the North China Plain was a healthy ecosystem, scientists say. Farmers digging wells could strike water within eight feet. Streams and creeks meandered through the region. Swamps, natural springs and wetlands were common.

Today, the region, comparable in size to New Mexico, is parched. Roughly five-sixths of the wetlands have dried up, according to one study. Scientists say that most natural streams or creeks have disappeared. Several rivers that once were navigable are now mostly dust and brush. The largest natural freshwater lake in northern China, Lake Baiyangdian, is steadily contracting and besieged with pollution.

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I hope that China's attempts to conquer nature can overcome north China's severe water problems. It seems likely to me that such projects will work in the short term. But the long term sustainability of redirecting rivers seems suspect. Especially given the fact that the source of China's main rivers - Himalayan glaciers - are becoming victims of climate change.


Anonymous said...

Areas around the world are facing a water crisis. A book just released talks about America's water crisis.

I have personally witnessed Lake Mead here in Vegas drop each year to its current historic low.

I can't even imagine what would happen in this country if 300,000 people were told you gotta move and here's 80 bucks a year for your trouble. Sometimes though, the good of the whole outweighs the good of the few and China's system allows them to make these critical decisions that can help it to avoid things like a water crisis.

Mark said...

I just started reading a book on water too - Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. Although the book is twenty years old, I've heard GREAT things about it. I'm only about 60 pages in, but am really enjoying it.

Being out in Nevada, Cadillac Desert might be up your alley, Hopfrog.

In your comment - "China's system allows them to make these critical decisions that can help it to avoid things like a water crisis" - I can see Superfusion's influencing you already, Hopfrog. ;)