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Crisis and Challenge
2012/8/7 15:09:54 ceshi

Water Shortage


The Yellow River only accounts for 2% of the total water volume in China. However, it feeds 12% of the population and irrigates 15% of lands in China. Moreover, it has the responsibility to dispatch water to the outer-basin area, such as Qingdao, Tianjing, Hebei Province, etc. Currently, the exploitation rate of the Yellow River exceeds 50% and is beyond the internationally agreed limitation which is 40%.


Since 1970s, river dry-up occurred from time to time in the lower reaches of the Yellow River. Since 1985, the lower reaches of the Yellow River have almost dried up annually. Due to the Yellow River’s dry-up, from 1992 to 1996, the direct economic loss in the Yellow River basin was 26.8 billion Yuan; Due to the Yellow River’s dry-up, there were 7.042 million mu of drought-affected farmland in Shandong and Henan provinces and caused 10 billion kg crop failure; Due to the Yellow River’s dry-up, in 1996, the Shengli oil field had to use the sea water to replace the industry water use and suffered the serious erosion of the oil equipment. Due to the Yellow River’s dry-up,millions of people in the city and rural area along the Yellow River faced the serious drinking water crisis. In 1992, the Yellow River dried up for two months. In Dongying city, the estuary of the Yellow River, the drinking water could only sustain for 7 days even though the water supply to the industry was cut off. In Binzhou city, in case of cutting off all the industrial and agricultural water supply, a total population of 500 thousand people and 270 thousand livestock still had difficult access to the drinking water; Due to the Yellow River’s dry-up, the wetland environment was imbalanced in the Yellow River delta wetland. In the Yellow River delta wetland reserve, more than 8000 aquatic organisms, hundreds of wild plants and 180 kinds of birds’ life and breeding were seriously threatened by the water shortage. In 1997, the zero flow lasted for 226 days in the lower reaches of the Yellow River. The dry-up section went upstream to somewhere near Kaifeng, Henan province and broke the new record of the dry-up history. The life of the Yellow River faced the crucial water crisis.

The Yellow River has played an essential role in the development of Chinese civilization. She is called "the cradle of Chinese civilization"and the mother river of the Chinese nation.As early as 1.1 million years ago, Lantian man had multiplied in the Yellow River basin. The prosperous ancient Chinese civilization such as famous Yangshao Culture, Longshan Culture, Dawenkou Culture, Majiayao Culture, etc boomed in this vast cradle….Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Tang and Song and other dynasties had set up their capitals in this prosperous region. Undoubtedly, without the Yellow River, there is no Chinese nation.

“The Yellow River water comes from the heaven and enters into the sea without returning”. The overwhelming Yellow River is the symbol of Chinese nation. No other rivers like the Yellow River could capture the soul of the Chinese nation. The Yellow River has the same relationship with China as the relationship between the Nile and Egypt. Without the Yellow River, the consequences would be far beyond the disaster of feeding 150 million people, it would be China’s sorrow and the pain in the heart of all the Chinese people forever. Save the Yellow River, protect the Yellow River, and keep our root.


Water Pollution


Traditionally, the Yellow River basin is mainly the agricultural production area. In the past 20 years, with the industrial and urban development in the Yellow River Basin and the urban population explosion, the industrial pollution, urban living pollution and agricultural non-point source pollution is being aggravated continually. The water pollution crisis presents gradually. At present the total amount of the wastewater discharged into the Yellow River has reached 4.2 billion m3 each year, which doubles the amount in the 1980s, the pollutants entering into the Yellow River has exceeded the carrying capacity of the Yellow River.


Based on the recent water quality monitoring data, only 1,750 km of the river channel, or 13.9 percent of the river, where the water quality is classified as type IandII with good quality; 2,160 km of the river channel, or 17.2 percent of the river, where thewater quality is classified as type Ⅲ, suitable for drinking; 4,280 km of the river channel, or 34.1 percent of the river, where the water quality is classified as type IV, only suitable for industry; 2,010 km of the river channel, or 16.0 percent of the river, where the water quality is classified as type V, only suitable for farming; 2,350 km of the river channel, or 18.7 percent of the river, where the water quality is classified lower than type V, the water body function basically lost.  In general, the length of the river with sufficient multi-function is less than 1/3 of the total river length evaluated.

The discharge of a large amount of sewage has caused the Yellow River being overwhelmed. The sewage caused the extinction of one third of the wild fish in the Yellow River and the long polluted section is even not suitable for irrigation. The waterway is full of harmful toxins, about 50 percent of the Yellow River section can cause the death of organisms, and have brought harm to the health of residents in the region. The cases of cancer, birth defect and aquatic infectious diseases along the river are increasing rapidly.

If we do not control the discharge of polluted water into the river, the Yellow River will lose its ability to shield us. The water of the Yellow River will become the deadly poisonous water, causing disastrous consequences for the future generations. We will drink the poisonous water brewed by ourselves and come to a chronic suicide.

Ecological Degradation


The origin of the Yellow River’s embarrassment starts from the source area, Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. With abundant underground water and glacier, Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is known as the Chinese “water tower” and nearly 50% of the Yellow River water comes from this area. But now, warming and arid climate are threatening seriously the ecosystem of the upper reaches of the Yellow River and have caused the unbalance of the biological chain. As a result of this unbalance, rat disasters on the grassland of the Plateau have caused degeneration of grass and then the decline of fertility of the soil and its ability to conserve water. More and more lakes are drying up; the water flowing into the Yellow River has been decreasing gradually. therefore, how long the Yellow River can survive without the source?


“I lived in the Loess Plateau, winds from the slope scratched……”, this song of “the Loess Plateau” make the people feel the heroic features of the Loess Plateau, however, due to the biting wind and the sand, numerous people lost their home. Affected by man-made and natural factors, the environment degeneration of the regions along the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River is being accelerated. A lot of land has been "covered" by deserts and the expansion of deserts has been forming a dust bowl area, which is the source of sandstorms.

With an area of 640,000 km2, the Loess Plateau is from the Riyue Mountain in the west to the Taihang Mountain in the east, the south border is the Qinling Mountain and the north border is Yin Mountain. It is an area in China or even in the world with the most extensive soil erosion and the weakest environment. Especially, the section from Hekouzhen to Tongguan, which is classified as coarse sediment laden area, it is the main source of the Yellow River sediment (more than 90%of the Yellow River sediment comes from this area). In recent years, with degeneration of ecological environment, the circumstance of the fragile Loess Plateau has been getting worse, for instance, lots of lakes and rivers, which supply water to the Yellow River, have been drying up, mass farmlands have been becoming desert and soil erosion has been intensified. The Loess Plateau is losing its “blood”.

If the Yellow River lacks water incessantly, the environment balance of the Yellow River Delta will be destroyed. As a result, the survival and multiplication of over 8000 species of aquatic organisms, over 100 species of wild plants and over 180 species of birds will be threatened badly. If the Yellow River lacks water incessantly, more sediment will gradually silt in the river channel and meanwhile the less sediment will be brought to the Delta, as a result, the seawater will erode the land and the Delta will shrink. If the Yellow River lacks water incessantly, severe losses to agriculture and industry of the Delta will be incurred,moreover, drinking water will suffer from shortage, and then the local inhabitants have to leave their home, even turbulence might be unavoidable.

Flood Risk


The Yellow River is regarded as the most difficult river to be managed in the world due to its particular features: it is easy to be silted up, breached and be wandering. The lower reaches of the Yellow River from Zhengzhou is known as a “hanging river” as the riverbed is generally 3~5 meters higher than the land surface protected by the riverbanks. For instance, the riverbed is 20 meters higher than the land surface in Xinxiang City, 13 meters higher in Kaifeng City and 5 meters higher in Jinan City. The downstream channel has been silting up with constant sediments, which are gathering on the main river bed. As a result, the “secondary hanging river” has become a serious trouble to the Chinese nation. If the Yellow River breached the dike and caused river channel diversion, more than 1/3 administrative districts in China would suffer from the big flood and the consequences would be disastrous.


Could you remember this tragic history? In wishful thinking of stopping the pursuing Japanese invaders, in 1938, the Kuomintang government ordered to blow off the Yellow River dike at Huayuankou. As result, 890,000 people died, 12,500,000 people were uprooted, 44 counties in 3 provinces of Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu were submerged and leaving a shocking world “flood area by Yellow River”.

Until now, we still can not get rid of the threat of big floods, although there is 150 years after the catastrophic flood (36,000 m3/s) occurred in 1843. In terms of 150-year cycle of floods and droughts of the Yellow River now the Yellow River is entering the high water period and the catastrophic Yellow River flooding is impending.

When will the severe flood happen? Nobody could foretell. Thus, it is still hanging over our heads, like the sword of Damocles.