It will take many years before a scheme to transport water from the Yangtze River to supply the mainland's arid northeast provinces is ready for implementation, said Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng. Although the scheme has been on the drawing board for many years, Mr Wang said only a tentative plan would be ready this year. Initial ideas for the scheme include building three giant pipelines to move surplus water from the Yangtze in the south to the north. But experts were still studying where to build the project and how much water should be channelled to the north. The minister was quoted by the semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency as saying the ministry has re-opened a special office to push for the project. Mr Wang's remarks came as northeast and central China suffered the worst drought in more than a decade. Latest statistics showed that more than 21 million people faced a drinking water problem and the drought has left more than 12 million hectares of farmland without water for irrigation. Scarce rainfall was said to be behind the drought but excessive consumption in some cities was also blamed for the water shortage. This year has been the driest in Beijing since 1949.