A city's sacrifice The residents of Danjiangkou, a county-level city in Central China's Hubei Province, have been living in limbo ...
A city's sacrifice
The residents of Danjiangkou, a county-level city in Central China's Hubei Province, have been living in limbo for more than 20 years, waiting for the day when many of their homes will disappear underwater.
Situated on the bank of the Hanjiang River, Danjiangkou has the distinction of being at the southern end of the nation's largest and longest-running construction undertaking - the South-to-North Water Diversion (SNWD) project.
More than 160,000 residents were relocated in the 1970s and more than 100,000 additional residents will be moved during the current phase of the project which is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.
The remaining residents of Danjiangkou, which today should be home to 600,000 people, are now looking for fairer treatment and better compensation from the ultimate beneficiaries of the project.
Despite a history of more than 2,000 years, the city is being sacrificed as part of the 1,000-kilometer-long water project which will channel fresh water from China's large, voluminous southern rivers to the country's parched north, including the capital Beijing.
Irrigation for thousands of hectares
Although they likely don't need it, the 400,000 remaining residents of Danjiangkou are constantly reminded of the sacrifice they are making. Walls throughout the city are plastered with the simple slogan: "To ensure clean water for Beijing."
Danjiangkou's sacrifice will not only save Beijing from its increasingly severe water shortages. When construction of the SNWD is completed the water will supply Henan and Hebei provinces with much needed water for irrigation that will open thousands of hectares to agriculture. The SNWD will also feed the coastal city of Tianjin with drinking water.
"The contemporary history of Danjiangkou is one dominated by migration and resettlement of its people," said Ding Lixian, 54, an official with the Danjiangkou resettlement bureau.
Not only has Danjiangkou been hit by the loss of nearly half of its population, its industries and fishing resources have been curtailed. The country's economic miracle seems to have passed Danjiangkou by.
"The local people have been prepared to be relocated for decades," said Ding. "They only hope to get proper compensation so they can improve their low standard of living that was partially caused by the halt in economic development here," said Ding.
South-to-North Water Diversion
No sense rebuilding
Fisher Wang Xiulin, 41, used to live in a village along the banks of the Hanjiang River, until his home was destroyed in a landslide caused by the rising water level in 2003. He knew the same thing would happen again, so he decided not to rebuild. Instead he moved his family to his tiny fishing boat. Earlier this year he was finally given a new, subsidized apartment. Unfortunately the newly built village is far from the river and he can't fish anymore.
"Now my family of five people lives on my savings," said Wang in his strong Hubei accent. His biggest hope is finding a job that will at least replace the 30,000 yuan ($4,763) a year he earned from fishing.
The people of Danjiangkou are not the only ones being required to make sacrifices to quench the thirsty north.
The second phase of the central route of the SNWD will see 345,000 people moved from their homes in areas throughout Central China.
The massive South-to-North Water Diversion was first envisioned by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958. It's being designed to bring billions of cubic meters of water to the north every year and will eventually supply downtown residents of Beijing with 65 percent of their drinking water during times of peak water consumption.
The upper reaches of Hanjiang River, near Danjiangkou, is the source of the central route of the SNWD, which also includes an east and a possible west route.
The central route began with the construction of a dam near Danjiangkou that was completed in 1973. The dam created a massive reservoir, requiring the first mass relocation of local residents. The dam, which took 15 years to complete, is again under construction in order to raise its height which will also enlarge its reservoir and mean more sacrifices for the people of the city.
The water stored in Danjiangkou is expected to begin flowing north within two years.
"About 1.24 billion cubic meters of water from the reservoir at Danjiangkou will flow into the lake at Beijing's Summer Palace. That's about 10 times more than the water currently stored at the Miyun Reservoir in Beijing," the city's largest, said Ding. "Another 1.02 billion cubic meters will be sent to Tianjin."
In total, the three routes will divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water, about as much as the flow of the Yellow River.
Wanting a share of the pie
The massive project has been fraught with difficulties and complications that have delayed construction, which is now under full steam.
The central route of the project crosses Hubei and Henan provinces, both of which appear to be competing and complaining about the other. Hubei believes it is making a greater sacrifice than Henan but has received far less financial support from the central government.
"Officials from Henan Province often claim their city of Nanyang is the starting point of the SNWD and that's put them in a better position than Danjiangkou. But Henan Province will consume 3.77 billion cubic meters of water from the project and so is one of the beneficiaries of water from Hubei," argued Ding, adding that generations of Danjiangkou residents have already sacrificed a lot for the project for which they have not been properly compensated.
"While large areas near the middle and lower reaches of the river will become one of China's main food production regions, Danjiangkou has been forced to virtually stop its economic development since the 1990s," said Ding, adding that many industrial projects proposed for the city were never approved in order to ensure the quality of water that will flow to the north.
Following the completion of the central route, the dam at Danjiangkou will also reduce its electricity production, costing the city one of its few promised benefits of the SNWD.
"We believe that we deserve the same treatment as those who lived near the Three Gorges Dam," said Ding referring to the compensation paid to thousands of people who were relocated to make way for the giant hydro dam on the Yangtze River.
Beneficiaries should help
In 2009, Shanghai, the major beneficiary of power from the Three Gorges Dam, pledged to provide economic assistance worth 2.88 billion yuan to Wuling district in Yichang city. Under the plan the two regions will cooperate on agriculture, business, education, tourism and training and employment for people who were relocated to make way for the massive dam, according to a Xinhua report in 2009.
Danjiangkou officials have been trying to strike a similar agreement with Beijing for several years. Ding says they've been told by Beijing that the water needs to start flowing into the capital first. "Rather than ask for support directly from the Beijing municipal government, we are now trying to negotiate with several districts in Beijing, and there has been some progress," said Ding.
A river of sacrifice
Officials of Xiangyang, the largest city on the middle and lower reaches on Hanjiang River also say they are not being treated fairly by the construction of the SNWD.
Tu Yuguo, an official from the publicity department of Xiangyang said his city is on the losing end of SNWD.
"The project will reduce the volume of water available for local agriculture. Besides, fishing on the Hanjiang River will be affected as fishing resources are expected to decline by one third," said Yu, adding the decline in the river's water level also threatens the drinking water of the 1 million local residents.
There are also concerns the Hanjiang River will not be able to supply the expected needs of the SNWD.
According to estimates from Xiangyang officials 9.5 billion cubic meters of water, accounting for 25 percent of the river's total flow will be captured by the reservoir every year.
"If a drought affects the flow of the river we will try to divert water from the Three Gorges Dam's reservoir into Hanjiang," said Yu.
While there are concerns over the quality of the water that will supply the eastern route of the project, the water quality destined for the central route is a source of pride for the people of Danjiangkou and Xiangyang.
Just before Spring Festival this year, fisher Wang Xiulin, his wife, son and his parents finally moved into their new 100-square-meter apartment in a newly built village. He's happy not to be living on his old, leaky boat, but is still playing a waiting game. He needs the SNWD to be completed and for the local economy to turn around before his savings run out and he becomes desperate.