Opinion / OP Rana

South-North water canal a double-edged sword

By OP Rana (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-10 08:24

In his New Year address, top leader Xi Jinping lauded the newly opened South-North Water Diversion Project.

Xi said: "On Dec 12, the first phase of the central route of the Water Diversion Project from South to North was officially completed. More than 400,000 residents along the route were relocated. We pay our sincere tributes to them for their sacrifice, and wish them a happy life in their new homes."

Many people are convinced that the project will help solve the water problem of northern China. At almost $80 billion, the water project is one of the most expensive engineering projects in the world and is aimed at diverting 44.8 billion cubic meters of water from the Yangtze River to the northern part of the country every year.

But many people are still not convinced that the water diversion project would function smoothly throughout the year because of the weak flow of water in the Yangtze River in the dry season and freezing of supply canals in winter. Also, the huge project cost and the recurring maintenance cost will make the water from the project prohibitively expensive. And some have criticized the project because it has forced many people to be relocated.

Still others say the diversion of water from the Yangtze River, along with the linking of rivers, has the potential of causing an environmental disaster because of the loss of biodiversity and the change in the weather and climate patterns in the river's hinterland.

Such criticisms are not totally unfounded. The loss of biodiversity is a problem that has been ignored by the world thanks to the mega-focus on the environment per se. That is not to say that the world has done much to mitigate the damage caused to the environment by human activities.

We will return to the environment after assessing the strength of the project. The eastern canal of the project will transfer water to Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hebei and Shandong provinces; the western canal will carry water to Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai provinces and the Inner Mongolia and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions; and the central canal will help quench Beijing's and Tianjin's thirst. The Danjiangkou Reservoir, spread across Henan and Hubei provinces and a major source of water for a large area, will serve the canals apart from continuing to generate electricity and control floods.

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