Running dry, part 3
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 27 06:35:53 MDT 2002
NY Times, Aug. 27, 2002
Chinese Will Move Waters to Quench Thirst of Cities
By ERIK ECKHOLM
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
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
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
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
"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.
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