China prepares to break ground on £37bn scheme to divert the Yangtze

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The Independent Online

Controversial plans for the largest water-diversion scheme in China's history have been all but agreed by the authorities in Beijing.

Controversial plans for the largest water-diversion scheme in China's history have been all but agreed by the authorities in Beijing.

The scheme to divert 48billion tons of water a year from China's longest river, the Yangtze, to the drought afflicted north – first conceived by Mao Zedong in 1958 – has been given the all-clear by the ministry of water resources.

Workers are waiting for the signal from the central government to break ground on the scheme, according to yesterday's China Daily, a state-run newspaper. The first task – heightening the dam of the Danjiangkou reservoir on the Han river – will affect more than 250,000 people in Shiyan, Hubei province.

Tang Yuanchang, who heads one of the companies involved in the project, was quoted as saying preparatory work had been completed to evict more than 2,000 residents.

Critics have raised concerns about the project, which, at more than 480bn yuan (£37bn), is more expensive than the Three Gorges Dam – another controversial scheme that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

The diversion scheme will dig three channels, each more than 600 miles long, to connect the Yangtze to the Hai, Huai and Yellow rivers in the north. Opponents say some areas could be left short of water and believe work should not begin before pollution and cracks at the Three Gorges Dam have been resolved.

Environmentalists advocate water conservation measures to aid China's arid north, where resources are stretched by intensive agriculture, an expanding industrial sector and rapid population growth.

Some Chinese politicians have reportedly complained that the issue has not been debated enough but Zhang Jiyao, the vice-minister of water resources, said yesterday: "Consensus has been reached on all aspects of the project."

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