China has the ability to literally do big things. Their ‘Three Gorges Dam’ is the largest electricity-generating plant of any kind. The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the world. And now they are embarking on the world’s biggest civil engineering project ever.
It is called ‘The South-North Water Diversion Project’ and upon completion, will likely be the largest man-made structure by volume in the world (overtaking The Great Wall).
Through a series of canals, tunnels and pre-existing rivers, it will take 44 billion cubic metres of water a year from the rainy south to the dry north.
The idea was first proposed by none other than Chairman Mao in 1952. He simply said “southern water is plentiful, northern water is scarce. If at all possible, borrowing some water would be good.” After 50 years of planning, it was finally approved in 2002.
The project takes shape using three separate routes – the western, central and eastern routes. Each will use canals and tunnels to transport the water between and under the major rivers and tributaries.
Engineers will have to tunnel under the Yellow River twice, and multiple pumping stations will be used to pump the water over obstructing mountain ranges. All up, the three routes will be over 3,600 km in length.
China’s four main rivers – the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe – will in parts be used to transport the water, and also act as a source. After all, officials believe that 96 percent of the Yangtze’s current water supply flows wastefully into the Pacific Ocean.
The need for water in the north is obvious. 35 percent of the population lives in the region yet it has only 7 percent of the country’s water resources.
And because it’s getting drier, the growth of cities and factories there has meant less water must be shared between more people. It has often been the rural agricultural populations that have suffered most.
To address this urgent problem, construction of the project began on the eastern route in 2002, and on the central route a year later.
In fact, some parts of the eastern and central routes have already been completed. Water to Beijing using the existing Grand Canal was completed last year to coincide with the Olympic Games.
All up the project is going to cost US$62bn and is expected to be finished in 2050. But opponents claim the cost is more than just financial.
Like with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, this project will require a large number of people who live in the path of the project to be moved from their homes.
Some in Hubei province arrived in their new homes this week. In October, the government initiated its first major resettlement of 330,000 people in Henan province.
In return for the move, each family is given 0.1 hectares of arable land in the newly built village, plus compensation for unmovable property from their old home, moving costs and an allowance of 600 yuan (US$88) each year for 20 years.
Many of the people claim they were forced to sign relocation agreements. This comes as no surprise as the Chinese government doesn’t traditionally allow much room for discussion when it comes to the greater good – especially for a project this size.
Besides, the government claims in most cases peoples’ standard of living will actually improve as a result of the move.
Environmental groups have generally agreed with the idea but have criticised some of the methods, arguing the diverted water will become polluted from all the surrounding industry.
In response, the government has promised to spend money on treatment facilities to ensure it meets the minimum drinking standard.
The biggest criticism of the project, however, is the supposed outcome itself. Opponents believe that the system will transfer too little water to meet the north’s needs, and thereby making it a sheer waste of money and resources.
They feel water conservation in the north will ultimately offer the best hope – something that has yet to be tried properly. Officials agree, but feel that both water conservation and the diversion project are necessary for its long-term economic success.
Whether it works or not, it’s undeniable that the project is ambitious. And in years to come when water may be one of the biggest issues facing the world, the Chinese South-North Water Diversion Project may become a model of success that other dry nations look to follow.
By The Casual Truth
Photo – The Danjiangkou Dam on the Yangtze River which is part of the central route.