The south-north water diversion project, intended to ease the burden on the Yellow River, receives close attention in the Wall Street Journal today (although you may require a subscription for the pleasure of reading it).
It’s a well quoted fact that China only has on average one quarter of the world’s per capita water resources (in Beijing it shoots up to one thirtieth) and 300 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water.
The diversion project, which is set to come in at more than US$60 billion, involves the construction of three canals that will carry nearly 45 billion tons of water northwards.
It is as ambitious a project as the Three Gorges Dam and has drawn an equal amount of criticism from ecologists about environmental disturbance and from human rights activists about forced migration to make way for the canals.
Most worrying is the fact that it just might not work. Based on current attitudes towards conservation and ineffective waterwork management, Beijing could well find itself running dry again in a few decades.
Giant engineering projects may capture the imagination but, in water as in many other cases, efficient use of resources is the key. China is generating much heat but little light.