A planned reservoir on the upper reaches of the Nen River would have cut flooding in Heilongjiang province, the China Youth Daily said yesterday. Experts said that had the reservoir at Nirji been built, it could have controlled waters in more than a fifth of the Nen River basin. The reservoir would reduce the discharge of the Nen River by 5,000 cubic metres per second, which would have saved Qiqihar and the Harbin-Manzhouli railway from flooding. Officials have said it could take the industrial hub of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang three years to recover. The reservoir could also have trimmed 0.4 metres off the Songhua River's biggest flood crest, making a crucial difference to Harbin, the newspaper said. Heilongjiang, especially its rural villages, suffered huge damage. The flooding damaged 750,000 homes, affecting 8.5 million people, of whom 500,000 are now living in the open. The direct economic losses in the province were put at more than 20 billion yuan (HK$18.6 billion). The Daqing Oilfield, the mainland's largest, was forced to shut down hundreds of its low-yield wells because of the deluge. Plans for the 10.8 billion-cubic-metre reservoir at Nirji were first made 20 years ago, but its construction was stalled due to lack of funds. The project was taken up again in the mid-1980s, but it has yet to pass the research stage.