Chinese officials have announced a massive infrastructure project that will reroute water from the Three Gorges Dam to Beijing, in an effort to boost food production in the country’s drier regions by as much as 540 million tons.
Freshwater resources are concentrated predominantly in the country’s south and east. China’s two great rivers, the Yangtze, which flows from the mountains of Tangulla and drains into the East China Sea, and the Yellow River, which flows from Qinghai to the Bohai Sea, are both located in the greener bottom half of the massive country.
Contrary to the floodplains that dominate the bottom of the country, the northern territories are bone-dry, many of them experience less rainfall than some parts of the Middle East.
The proposed Yinjiangbuhan tunnel will become the longest underground canal in the world, surpassing the Päijänne water tunnel in Finland, which runs for 120 kilometres at depths anywhere between 30 and 150 metres underground, according to South China Morning Post.
The Yinjiangbuhan project is set to dwarf its Finnish counterpart. Beginning at the Three Gorges Dam, one of the largest man-made reservoirs, and draining into the Han River, early estimates of the tunnel’s scale have it measuring roughly 260 kilometres long with depths nearing 1 kilometres.
Once rerouted to the Han, the water will flow north towards Beijing and link up with the central line of the south-to-north water diversion project, a network of above-ground canals that runs for 1 400 kilometres.
The undertaking will cost about $8.9 billion and take roughly a decade to complete, said Niu Xinqiang, speaking to state media outlet, Guangming Daily.
Niu, who serves as president of the Changjiang Institute of Survey, Planning and Research, said the construction of the Yinjiangbuhan tunnel was immensely important to China as it connects the nation’s two critical water infrastructures: the Three Gorges Dam and the south-to-north diversion projects.
If successful, large swathes of previously arid and lifeless wastelands in the north could be transformed into fertile plains, ideal conditions for rice, beans, corn and other crops.
The sprawling tunnel and canal network on the Chinese mainland could total 20 000 kilometres in length – one half the earth’s circumference, said Liang Shumin, a researcher specialising in economic development at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
A construction effort of this magnitude will not be cheap, Liang warned. He said the cost to the Chinese taxpayer could exceed $1.3 trillion over the next three decades.
At 660 million tons per year, China is already the world leader in food production. However, to meet the rising living requirements of 1.3 billion citizens, China still imports about 100 million tons of grain from overseas. Adding 540 million tons of food would go a long way to solving China’s food scarcity dilemma, according to Liang.
A shrinking populace coupled with aggressive investments into projects like the Yinjiangbuhan tunnel could see China become a net exporter of food by 2043.