Resettlement fears over China's South-North water transfer project

The Three Gorges Dam

China's Three Gorges Dam has driven fish species to extinction, caused frequent toxic algae blooms and subjected the area to erosion and frequent landslides

Biggest engineering project in Chinese history could repeat failures of Three Gorges Dam, with significant pressure on ecosystems and fisheries from the resettlement of 300,000 people

A giant engineering project transferring water to northern China is failing to learn from the past environmental mistakes of the Three Gorges Dam.

A report from International Rivers said policies to relocate residents living near the South-North water transfer project would place ‘significant pressure’ on ecosystems, while the group has also expressed concern at the impact the project will have further downstream.

The South-North water transfer project is the biggest engineering project in Chinese history, and will take water from the Yangtze and Han rivers in the south to drier areas in the north through the construction of new canals.

Intensification of agriculture

Approximately 330,000 people will be relocated due to the expansion of the Danjiankou reservoir in central China that will result from the project, with the report claiming many will be relocated to areas where population densities are already high.

The report went on to suggest that this would lead to marginal lands increasingly being utilised for agriculture, potentially leading to increased erosion and even landslides. Similar processes resulting from the creation of the Three Gorges Dam have forced the resettlement of residents for a second time, the report has said.

While praising the Chinese government for its attempts to relocate residents locally and providing greater support for those being resettled, International Rivers has said the report illustrated an ‘inherent limitation’ with resettlement projects in China.

‘While we appreciate that people aren’t been sent away to far away provinces the way that it happened on the Three Gorges project, there are obvious ecological limitations on local resettlement,’ said Peter Bosshard, policy director at International Rivers.

‘Even with the best will and the best compensation, the land is just very scarce and ecosystems are under pressure.’

Pressure on ecosystems

Bosshard also expressed his concern at the impacts the scheme will have downstream, saying it will add to the pressure placed by the Three Gorges Dam on ecosystems and fisheries on the Yangtze.

‘The water transfer scheme is a huge intervention into this river system in the Han and the Yangtze,’ he said.

‘This will have impacts on fisheries directly, and it will also impact on pollution levels, which will be more concentrated because the river will be warmer, slower and carry less water, and will have a lower capacity to cleanse itself. This will have indirect impacts on fisheries as well.’

Useful links

Report: Resettlement in Action

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