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South-to-North Water Transfer Project

Photographer: Hwee Young How


On 29 June 2010 at the break of dawn, a batch of villagers from Cangfang in Xichuan county of Henan province loaded their belongings and lined up to board a long line of buses. Amid tearful embraces, the villagers bid their remaining relatives and friends farewell and began their journey to cross the Danjiangkou reservoir in barges and more than 500 kilometers of mountainous roads and dusty highways in buses and trucks to start their new lives in resettlement villages in Hui county.


These migrant villagers were part of the massive relocation of residents affected by the South-North Water Transfer project. It was conceived in 1952 by former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong to solve the country's chronic water shortages. The plan was to channel 44.8 billion cubic meters of water annually from southern China to arid northern areas. This resulted in a colossal engineering undertaking spanning more than 60 years, costing an estimate of 500 billion yuan (61 billion euro), and required the relocation of more than 330,000 people in the provinces of Henan and Hubei.


The vast resettlement of affected residents in Xichuan county began in August 2009 and lasted until 2011. Parts of Xichuan county, a remote mountainous region inaccessible by railway and home to 162,000 migrants will be submerged by water from the Danjiangkou reservoir by 2014. On the project's central route sitting on the Han Jiang, a tributary of the Yangtze River, the Danjiangkou Dam was raised from 162 meters to 176.6 meters, in preparations to increase the water level of the Danjiangkou reservoir from 140 to 170 meters. Water from the Danjiangkou reservoir is designated to be diverted to Beijing.