Mixed Grade for Water Diversion Relocation

Shai Oster
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Originally published in the WSJ Blog China Real Time Report

Environmental advocacy group International Rivers gives a mixed grade to China's biggest resettlement project since at least 1.2 million people were moved to make way for the Three Gorges reservoir.

Some 330,000 people are being relocated to expand the Danjiangkou Reservoir in central China's Hubei province as part of a massive and controversial project to divert water from southern China along three canals to the north. The South-to-North Water Transfer Project is estimated to cost $62 billion - far more than even the Three Gorges Dam.

In a new report, International Rivers says that officials have appeared to learn some of the lessons of the relocations from the Three Gorges, which was plagued with problems ranging from misappropriation of resettlement funds to high unemployment for farmers forced to leave their land.

"The levels of compensation and post-resettlement support have been increased, and resettlement policies are much more detailed than in the past. Resettlers are no longer moved out of their home provinces. The authorities have so far relied on persuasion rather than force to implement the relocation project. They have even instituted a certain degree of participation in project implementation," the report said.

But, on the downside, residents still don't have much say in formulating policy or even choosing where they will be moved, relocation budgets are tight, and the move could increase overcrowding in ecologically stressed regions.

International Rivers suggested that China increase aid to relocated families and offer more freedom to choose where they'll go. It also said authorities should be prepared to help families that decide to move back from their new hometowns - as has happened in places like the Three Gorges. And it called for a closer examination of the ecological impact of the moves.