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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
China's $18bn drought plan bill

By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China has given the most detailed account yet of its controversial plan to divert the Yangtze River, revealing that the first stages alone could cost up to $18bn.

The project, one of the largest ever attempted, includes a vast network of tunnels and canals linking the flood-prone Yangtze in central China with the country's north.

Drought scene
Environmental degradation has left the north short of water
Environmental degradation and drought have left many areas in the north with severe water shortages.

The once mighty Yellow River, for example, now barely reaches the sea for much of the year.

After receiving the high profile backing of Prime Minister Zhu Rongji last week, officials at the ministry of water resources say a consensus has now been reached on implementing the controversial 3000km diversion.

Investment

Consultant Zhu Erming told the China Daily newspaper that plans for the project would be finalised in the next eight months.

He said work would begin first on two of the three proposed diversion routes in the centre and east of the country, where an existing network of canals can be incorporated into the scheme.

Yangtze flood
The Yangtze is prone to flood
Plans for a third channel in the remote west of China are still being drawn up.

Mr Zhu said the work would be done in stages to facilitate raising the massive investment needed - up to $18bn for the east and central channels alone.

Environmentalists argue that northern China's water shortages could be better solved by tackling water pollution and desertification, and by raising low water prices which they say encourage waste.

Three Gorges

The government now says it will raise water prices. But it has yet to address concerns about the fate of the thousands of people likely to have to be relocated to make way for the Yangtze diversion.

China's biggest water-control project, the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze, has been dogged by protests over the misuse of funds destined for the million residents being displaced.

Work resumed on the project last week after a month-long pause following the death of three workers in an accident on the site.

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See also:

06 Oct 00 | Media reports
Chinese media's drought warning
21 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Three Gorges corruption scandal
21 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
$12bn pipeline could ease China drought
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China battles against sand invasion
15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China plagued by locusts
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