DYKES are to be built around flood-prone villages in the New Territories under a $409 million government project. Nine villages on the Yuen Long plain, where most of the district's rivers converge before flowing into Deep Bay, have been identified for the 'ring-dyke' project. By the end of 2003, villagers' homes will be enclosed by embankments up to three-metres high. Anti-flooding projects were given priority in the New Territories two years ago, when a record deluge destroyed one-third of Hong Kong's agricultural land. The Drainage Services Department yesterday assured the villagers the dykes would provide adequate protection from 'the 200-year flood level'. Rain water inside the walled area will be piped into a flood storage pond before being pumped to a station on the embankment and out into drainage channels. Government senior engineer (drainage projects) Chan Pak-keung said the idea of building ring dykes was initiated in the 1980s. However, lengthy consultation with villagers, concerned they might have to surrender part of their farmland for construction, had led to crucial delays in the scheme, leaving the area unprepared for last year's floods. The department plans to build dykes in Sha Po, Pok Wai, Chuk Yuen, and Mai Po villages, in northern Yuen Long, in February. Works in five other villages in western Yuen Long will start later. Shek Wu Wai villager Kwok Yat-chung, whose farmland next to Castle Peak Road in Kam Tin is subject to flooding during heavy rain but is not part of the plan, said: 'It would be best if the Government could speed up the project to cover more villages.' North District legislator Tik Chi-yuen said the scheme could solve minor floods but the long-term solution was to improve drainage on the Yuen Long plain. 'Just imagine you are surrounded by the sea,' Mr Tik said. 'You are protected by the embankment. But it would not help much even if you pump the water out because the water would probably flood back,' he said. The ring-dyke scheme is to complement a comprehensive drainage project to alleviate flooding in the northwest New Territories. The scheme has been underway in stages since October 1993. The department's chief engineer Keith Murrells, who with his officers visited Yuen Long and Kam Tin yesterday to inspect the project, said works to widen and deepen Shan Pui River were expected to be completed late next year. The Shan Pui River flows into Deep Bay and has been the source of widespread flooding in Yuen Long during heavy rain in past years. The $275 million project aims to widen the river outlet to 600 metres.