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Moving the Masses

Feb 16, 2011

Struck by a spate of fatal landslides, Shaanxi plans to relocate 2.4 million people to safer ground. But will this ambitious programme work? Meng Dengke reports.

On December 7, a hugely ambitious resettlement project planned for Shaanxi province in north China secured approval in principle from the standing committee of the regional government. The scale of the plans is unprecedented, far outstripping the relocation of 1.5 million people to make way for the Three Gorges Dam project.

Draft proposals from November, seen by Southern Weekend, outline plans to move 2.4 million people from 28 counties in the municipalities of Hanzhong, Ankang and Shangluo between 2011 and 2020. The figure represents more than one quarter of the total population of these cities. Around 100 million square metres of buildings would be constructed to accommodate the relocated communities and the project cost would exceed 110 billion yuan (US$16.7 billion).

If it goes ahead as planned, this could end up being the largest resettlement project in China since 1949. But unlike past relocation programmes, carried out to make way for major infrastructure schemes, this one is an attempt to reach a compromise with nature.

Last year, extremely heavy rains in southern Shaanxi triggered a series of disastrous landslides. As acting governor Zhao Zhengyong said at the meeting to approve the government’s plan, in one case “Twenty people from a single village were buried in seconds. It was utterly heartbreaking.”

Meng Dengke is a reporter at Southern Weekend and winner of the “investigative journalism” category at the 2010 Environmental Press Awards, jointly organised by chinadialogue and The Guardian.

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