China's Biggest Relocation Project Yet

At GlobalPost, Kathleen McLaughlin describes the impact of forced relocation on the 1.5 million pushed aside by the Three Gorges Dam, and the 3 million now facing a similar fate in Shaanxi.

In the best-case situations, those who get moved end up with nicer homes, indoor plumbing, access to services and cleaner living conditions. The dark side is that frequently the relocated become internal migrants mired in debt, without farmland or income.

“Eventually, every forced migrant in China becomes a refugee,” said Chen Zongshun, author of an investigative book about the 1.5 million people relocated for the world’s biggest hydropower project, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

A study this spring says demolition and forced relocation are the biggest flashpoints for social unrest in China, even more than toxic pollution or labor issues. With an estimated more than 180,000 protests per year in China, that’s certainly not lost on a government that now spends more on domestic security than its military budget.

While officials have finally admitted to problems with the Three Gorges Dam, including the relocation of local residents, the largest resettlements are yet to come:

In order to transform this stretch of the Qinling mountains prone to earthquakes and landslides to a safe urban zone, and to channel the river north, the Shaanxi provincial government will move more than 2.5 million people off the rivers and mountains. In the north of the province, another half-a-million people are slated for relocation.

That 3 million is twice the number of people resettled to make way for the world’s largest dam, at the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River.

Shaanxi’s relocation plan, tied in part to China’s massive South-North Water Diversion Project, will change the geographic heart of the country. The Han River, which runs through these mountains, is a key tributary of the Yangtze. It’s one of three channels being diverted to deliver trillion of gallons of water per year north ….

The final fate for nearly everyone in this region seems uncertain. Many don’t know if they must move, while those who do know fear monthly bank payments and losing their farms, when they already own houses and land.

“The rich people are getting richer, the poor are worse off and the difference between us is growing,” said Pingchuan Mayor Yang.

Shaanxi was also the site of the Sanmen Xia dam, whose construction in 1956 marked the start of a decades-long ordeal for displaced local residents and the writer Xie Chaoping, who faced harrassment and detention for recording it.

The GlobalPost series also includes a video report “in which [a] man in [a] house about to fall off a cliff praises [the] Harmonious Society” which is pushing it over the edge:

Sources:

For development, China moves millions – GlobalPost
China’s biggest relocation project yet – GlobalPost
Video: Relocating Shaanxi province – GlobalPost