BEIJING BLAMES THE PEASANTS

Beijing has accused China's peasantry of contributing to the floods by "blindly" developing land near major lakes and rivers and failing to maintain discharge channels.Since China began breaking up Mao's communes in 1979, peasants have let irrigation works crumble, settled in flood storage zones, and blocked floodgates with rural factories and villages, officials say. For example, more than 1 million people live on the dikes of the Huai River, complicating efforts to ensure exits for flood waters, says Huang Wenxian, Chief Engineer of the State Flood-Control Headquarters. "How do we decide where to dig out a factory, or cut through a residential area? We have to do a lot of [persuasion] work," says Huang. "This is very troublesome." Yet Beijing has also neglected crucial maintenance of China's hydraulic system, Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin admitted in July. State investment in agricultural construction, which covers water conservancy, has dropped or stagnated since rural reforms began in 1979. Meanwhile, the number of reservoirs and amount of irrigated land have declined steadily, official statistics show.

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