BEIJING (Reuters) - China will use stimulus spending to speed up shifting 330,000 people slated to be displaced for a vast water transfer project, accelerating work on the troubled scheme, an official newspaper said on Tuesday.
The displaced residents, mostly poor farmers in central China's Henan and Hubei provinces, are being moved for the South-North Water Transfer Project, which will draw water from southern rivers for the country's dry north.
The construction of two long canals in central and eastern China has been troubled by chronic pollution, troubles relocating displaced residents and engineering hitches.
But now Zhang Jiyao, the official in charge of the project, has "urged local authorities to complete all migrant displacement by the end of 2011," the China Daily reported, citing an official meeting on Monday. The earlier deadline was 2014.
Half the residents will be relocated by the end of 2010, when 48 billion yuan ($7.03 billion) will be spent on the project, boosted by funding from China's blitz of stimulus spending to counter the financial crisis, said Zhang.
Big dams and hydro projects have been a lightning rod for discontent in China. Around the Three Gorges Dam, the nation's other mighty hydro project, clashes dogged the move of 1.4 million residents.
The South-North Project is the latest of these ambitious efforts, and the push to speed up resettlement could stir more complaints from farmers, especially near the Danjiangkou Dam that will feed the main central route.
Most of the people displaced by its rising waters will be sent to less fertile farmland. Resettlement there began earlier this year.
"Nobody really wants to move," said Ma Feng, a villager from Machuan Village near the dam, who was moved earlier this year to a new home hundreds of kilometers away.
"We were forced to accept it in the end, because the officials and police made us," she told Reuters by telephone. "But if they move all the dam residents, that will be much more difficult."
The central route will wind along 1,421 km (883 miles) of canals and tunnels from Danjiangkou to Beijing, as well as the nearby port city of Tianjin and surrounding areas. The separate eastern route cuts through coastal provinces up to Tianjin.
The planned completion for the first stage of the central route was pushed back to 2014 after it became clear that earlier deadlines of 2010 and 2008 could not be met.
A proposed western route, which would tap rivers on the Tibetan highlands to feed northwest areas, is still being examined by experts.
(Editing by Dean Yates)