Running dry, part 3

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Aug 27 06:35:53 MDT 2002

NY Times, Aug. 27, 2002

Chinese Will Move Waters to Quench Thirst of Cities

DANJIANGKOU, China — The booming cities of northern China are parched and 
constrained by a growing shortage of water. Yet in China's rainy south, the 
mighty Yangtze River pours vast volumes, unused, into the sea.

So why not, Chinese leaders have long asked, cross the country with new 
canals, bringing that "wasted" water to where it is vitally needed for the 
country's progress?

In a world short of fresh water, one of the gravest challenges facing 
governments is that needs and supplies are often far apart. Now China, with 
water scarcity reaching the critical stage in sprawling showcase cities 
like Beijing and Tianjin, has embarked on one of history's great 
water-moving projects.

At huge cost and great risk to the environment, the government plans to 
rechannel vast rivers of water from the Yangtze basin to the thirsty north, 
over three pathways of nearly 1,000 miles each. The official price tag of 
$58 billion, nearly half to be spent in the next eight years, is more than 
twice that of the Three Gorges Dam, China's most recent mega-project now 
nearing completion.

Some officials speak of delivering new waters to a "green Beijing" in time 
for the 2008 Olympics, an indication of the political overtones of the 
project as well as the crash timetable.

"We have to sacrifice so that people in Beijing can drink water," said 
Zhang Jize, a 32-year-old farmer and father of two daughters who is among 
370,000 people the plan will uproot.

Such immense, centrally planned projects have been tried before, notably in 
Central Asia, where a Soviet-era plan has steadily drained the Aral Sea, 
turning what was one of the world's largest inland bodies of water into a 
salty desert and providing a vivid illustration of the dangers of bending 
nature to economic needs.

But China, convinced of its future as a great power, believes the project 
is essential. Some have drawn parallels to the great water works of the 
United States, like the the Tennessee Valley Authority that spurred rural 
development beginning in the 1930's or, more appropriately, the canals that 
took northern waters to fuel fantastic growth in arid Southern California. 
But the Chinese project is on an even grander scale.

Like China's construction of the Three Gorges Dam, which set off global 
debate, this latest venture raises a host of tough questions, including how 
to deliver clean water across one of the world's most polluted landscapes.

Perhaps toughest of all, in a country where no good patch of land lies 
idle, is how to provide for those like Mr. Zhang and his family who will be 

For Mr. Zhang and many others who live around the Danjiangkou Reservoir — a 
linchpin of the new project — it is not the first time they are being 
displaced, and their travails parallel China's expanding ambition to meet 
its water needs.

Some 30 years back, when Mr. Zhang was a toddler and the dam was first 
completed, he and his parents were sent from their fertile valley plot to a 
remote spot on the banks of the new lake, receiving little compensation for 
their troubles.

"Life is too hard here," he recently told a visitor, gathering with his 
family in their house with walls of wood and packed earth, covered with old 
calendars and newspapers.


Louis Proyect

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