New Report Finds Progress and Challenges in Chinese Resettlement Project

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The $62 billion South-North Water Transfer Project is the biggest engineering scheme in Chinese history. About 330,000 people are currently being relocated for the expansion of the Danjiangkou reservoir, which marks the beginning of the transfer project’s Middle Route. On August 25, International Rivers published an eyewitness report on China’s biggest ongoing resettlement project. The report finds that the Chinese government has learned lessons from the experience with the Three Gorges Dam, but that serious problems remain.

The report was prepared by a Chinese development expert who knows the Dangjiangkou region well, but needs to remain anonymous. It finds that the Chinese government has learned important lessons from the problems of the Three Gorges Project. The levels of compensation and post-resettlement support have been significantly increased, and resettlement policies are 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 also instituted a certain degree of participation in project implementation through the involvement of elected resettlement committees.

At the same time, major problems and risks remain. Affected people were not involved in preparing the resettlement policies, which has created unnecessary problems. Affected people have no freedom to choose among different resettlement options. The resettlement budget is relatively low, which may cause problems particularly in the post-resettlement phase. Resettlement within the reservoir area will increase population density, fuel social tensions, and add pressure on ecosystems which are already under stress.

At the launch of the report, the researcher recommended that the participation of affected people in the project be improved, and that government support particularly for the period after resettlement be strengthened. The researcher also urged the Chinese authorities to take the ecological limits of the region into account as they implement the water transfer project.

Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers, commented: “We commend the Chinese authorities for the improvements which they have adopted in their resettlement policies, and salute the courage of China’s dam-affected people who have helped to bring this progress about. We urge the government to carry out the measures recommended in the new report to avoid a deterioration of the situation. At the same time, the social and environmental problems of the water transfer project show that the solution of China’s water crisis will not lie in grand engineering schemes, but in efficiency improvements and conservation measures which can reduce the country’s water demand.”

Read the new report, Resettlement in Action.

Read the Chinese language version.

International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.