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The Chinese Government has given the final go-ahead to what is expected to be one of the world's largest water-transfer projects.
Authorities plan to build three entirely man-made waterways to get water from China's Yangtze River to the country's arid north.
The project, which was formally launched by the Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji on Friday, has been under discussion for decades. It has been held up by serious doubts over its environmental impact, and the potential for corruption.
The project means that by the year 2010, people in Beijing may be washing in water from the Yangtze river, delivered from more than 625 miles away.
The massive, communist-style project will cost the Chinese Government $60 billion and force nearly 400,000 people to move out of the way.
Authorities say they have no choice. Officials in Beijing say that they are facing a water crisis. They have to feed one fifth of the world's population with just a fraction of its arable land and clean water.
Northern China is extremely dry. Many farmers around Beijing now have to dig very deep wells to get water.
More than 400 cities face water shortages and officials say that could spark civil unrest. But critics accuse the government of trying to tame nature and of ignoring environmental risks.
They argue that the new, man-made waterways will deliver contaminated water to the north -- polluted by industry and agriculture -- and cause flooding.
A BBC correspondent in Shanghai says critics are worried because, given the fuzzy dividing lines between government and big business in China, the billions of dollars going into the scheme could provide fuel for kickbacks on an equally monumental scale.
According to China's official Xinhua news agency, the project actually consists of three canals running through the country's eastern, middle and western parts. The canals will be built in three stages and link up the country's four major rivers, the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Huaihe and Haihe.