Shaanxi plans to relocate 3m rural residents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am

Shaanxi province has unveiled plans to relocate almost three million rural residents in an ambitious drive to alleviate poverty and reduce the impact of natural disasters.

In what could become one of the largest forced migrations in history, the twin project aims to clear isolated hamlets in mountainous areas in the south and north of the province over the next decade.

The projected number of people is more than double those relocated for the controversial Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River, and could have an impact on up to a quarter of the population in the affected parts of the province.

Local officials say they have yet to see details of the plan, but the People's Daily reported yesterday that the relocations were scheduled to begin next year.

About 2.4 million people would be relocated from 28 counties under the administration of Ankang, Hanzhong and Shangluo in the south of the province, the paper reported, and 392,000 other residents would be relocated from the Baiyu Mountains in the north.

The regions are home to some of the mainland's poorest rural communities, located in barren, unstable mountains prone to landslides and earthquakes.

A document posted at the Shaanxi Provincial Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development in August this year cites casualties in landslides caused by heavy rainfall in the previous month - three individual instances taking 20 or more lives each - as motivation for the project to relocate two million mountain residents from the south of the province.

Inquiries to the provincial government were referred to local authorities in the affected regions.

A spokesman in Hanzhong said details had not been finalised and the administration was waiting for notification from provincial authorities.

'At the moment you probably know about as much as we do,' he said. 'But I do know this will be an exceptionally large project involving very large numbers of people. I believe it will be implemented over a considerable period of time.

'At the moment we do not know exactly how many people will be affected and which counties will be included in the relocations project. I cannot comment on where they will be moved to. It could be within our own area or they could be relocated to other parts of the province.'

He said the project had been brought forward with greater urgency following the death tolls in this summer's flooding and the catastrophic magnitude-8 earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan in 2008, which also claimed more than 100 lives in southern Shaanxi.

'These are often very small villages with low population,' the spokesman said. 'They have no roads and are accessible only by many kilometres of dirt track. They have only very basic facilities, so relocating the people is the most effective way to improve their livelihoods.'