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Despite Environmental Concerns, China to Proceed with Water Project - 2003-02-20

China says a multi-billion dollar project to pump water from the country's south to its north will relieve an intensifying water shortage. Despite fears that the plan will damage the environment and waste money, officials insist the project is necessary for China's long-term economic health.

China's plan to transfer water from the south to the parched north is the largest such project in the world, and is expected to take 50 years to complete. The ambitious idea was first conceived in 1952 under Chairman Mao Zedong after he founded Communist China, but construction on the project only began last December.

Du Ying, an official in charge of China's rural economic development, told a news conference in Beijing Wednesday that the water transfer project is crucial to the country's future economic growth, and will be a very effective way to relieve acute water shortages in China's north.

Mr. Du says the project will channel water along three major routes from the largest rivers in China's south, including the Yangzi and Yellow Rivers, to northern cities such as Beijing.

Zhang Guoliang, head of the project's planning at the Ministry of Water Resources, tells reporters that serious exploitation of natural resources and China's rapidly growing population have drained water supplies in the north. He says pumping stations will transfer 40-billion cubic meters of water each year from the south to 39 cities and hundreds of towns in the north, at a cost of $15 billion for the first phase of the project alone.

Critics charge that the gigantic project could damage China's ecosystems, destroy fish in the country's rivers, and cause even more water pollution. Some are worried about social tensions surrounding the forced relocation of 300,000 farmers who live along the middle route of the project.

But officials dismiss these and other concerns, arguing that the project will benefit at least 50 million people by the end of the decade.