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Tunnel work starts for water project
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China began digging a tunnel on Friday beneath the Yellow River in eastern Shandong Province as part of the massive south-to-north water diversion project.

The 7,870-meter tunnel would annually divert 442 million cubic meters of water from the Yangtze River to the northern banks of the Yellow River, said Zhang Jirao, director of the South-North Water Diversion Project Office of the State Council.

The tunneling was scheduled to be completed in three years with an investment of 613 million yuan (92.1 million U.S. dollars).

Water shortage had become an obstacle to the development of north China in recent years. The tunneling project, however, was a key step in diverting more water to the region.

Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality would directly benefit from the tunnel upon its completion, the official added.

In order to ensure success, an experimental tunnel was constructed under the Yellow River, the country's second longest river, in the 1980s. This provided references and data for the design and construction of the tunnel.

In 2002, China approved the south-to-north water diversion project that aimed to relieve severe water shortages in parched northern areas.

The project will divert water from the Yangtze, the country's longest river, to the thirsty northern areas of the country. Three routes were planned -- eastern, middle and western.

Upon completion, about a dozen provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in north China including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi and Shanxi, with a total population of about 300 million, would benefit.

Those areas produced one-third of the country's grain output and GDP with about 20 percent of the country's average per capita water resource.

The huge water diversion project, with a total cost forecast at 486 billion yuan, would have a far-reaching impact on the sustainable development of the country, and benefit generation after generation, observers said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2007)

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