A 16-minute documentary by Lynn Zhang and Shirley Han Ying kicks off an Asia Society China Green series on China’s South-to-North Water Diversion project. The filmmakers follow a group of farmers who have spent many years and all their savings petitioning against water pollution from a nearby chemical plant, which they say poisoned their pear orchard.
The film features interview segments with Ma Jun of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs on China’s water “time bomb”. Groundwater extraction lowered the water table in Hebei by 130 feet between 1996 and 2006, and with inadequate supplies, there is not enough clean water to reclaim the polluted. The real extent of the problem is unknown, Ma says: while 90% of the shallow groundwater flowing through the cities is thought to be polluted, no complete data exists.
Local officials did eventually come up with a solution of sorts for the farmers’ plight: they confiscated the land on which the orchard had stood.
The film ends on an optimistic note regarding the South-to-North Water Diversion project. In addition to long-standing doubts about its practicality, however, severe droughts in southern China have raised questions about the core assumption underlying the scheme.