Environment: China Battles to Revive Its Two Sacred Rivers

By Poole, Teresa | The Independent (London, England), January 5, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Environment: China Battles to Revive Its Two Sacred Rivers


Poole, Teresa, The Independent (London, England)


China has launched a massive pounds 18bn campaign to save the Yangtze and Yellow River valleys from ecological disaster. The project will take 33 years to complete. Teresa Poole in Peking asks if China is paying the price for its breakneck economic development.

Chinese poetry has waxed lyrical for thousands of years over the mighty Yangtze River and its sister to the north, the Yellow River. The fertile valleys are considered the "cradle of the Chinese nation", though the Yellow river is mourned equally often as "China's sorrow", because of its habit of bursting its banks and causing great loss of life.

A modern poet might find that other, less attractive, aspects of the landscape catch his eye these days. Nearly half the 2.5 million square kilometres in question is suffering from serious water and soil erosion, an official report at the weekend said. Trees have been cleared at such a rate along the river valleys that 1.6 billion tonnes of mud is carried down each year by the Yellow River alone, much of it washed down from the hills of the Loess Plateau which flank the upper reaches of the river. In the middle and lower reaches, the riverbed is rising at a dangerous rate of 10cm a year as this silt is deposited, demanding a constant topping- up of the dikes which hold back the waters from flooding the surrounding lower land. Stopping this alarming rate of soil erosion will the goal of the 230bn yuan (pounds 18bn) project. The answer is more trees. China aims to to plant 26 million hectares of forest by the year 2030, which, in theory, would cover just under two-thirds of the eroded areas. The population density in the valleys is so high that every possible strip of arable land has been utilised, and trees were chopped down long ago for fuel or cleared for farmland. Bringing big projects to fruition is always a problem in China.

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