Fact Check
Protecting the Mother River
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2023-04-14  ·   Source: NO.16 APRIL 20, 2023

The Yellow River is often dubbed China's Mother River and the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. Originating from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it runs through nine of the country's provinces and autonomous regions before emptying into the Bohai Sea in Shandong Province in the east.

The 5,464-km-long waterway, China's second longest after the Yangtze River, irrigates 15 percent of its arable land and supplies water to more than 60 cities.

The most sediment-laden river in the world, the Yellow River has caused numerous floods throughout history. As sediment deposits keep accumulating, some of the surrounding areas become lower than the riverbed, resulting in a threat from flooding to locals. Over the last few decades, considerable soil and water conservation measures have been taken.

Yet these improvements, which have to large extent reined in flooding, can easily be undone as extensive ecologically fragile regions line the river. These regions feature different ecosystems, like glacial ones along the river's upstream, loess lining its midstream and the Yellow River Delta in the downstream. The Yellow River Delta Wetland, for example, boasts rich biodiversity and is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Yellow River protection and flood prevention have long featured high on the national agenda. On the heels of the Yangtze River Protection Law, China's first law governing river basins that took effect on March 1, 2021, now comes the Yellow River Protection Law. In recent years, China's environment on the whole has seen changes for the better, with social awareness of environmental protection steadily growing. The Yellow River Protection Law's entry into force on April 1 is thus a welcome move.

China's pursuit of high-quality development, which means innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared growth, demands the legal protection of both rivers. Most of the country's population and economic activities concentrate in the Yangtze and Yellow river basins. With the help of the laws, a wide range of issues related to water, air and soil pollution can be solved in more effective ways, in turn pushing forward China's efforts to lift its environmental quality.

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2022, a milestone political event that outlined priorities in China's development, proposed a Chinese path to modernization, emphasizing harmony between humanity and nature throughout this modernization process. The protection of the Yellow River, specifically, should happen in a way that puts the ecological environment first, so that the Mother River will benefit the population residing on its banks—instead of causing them grief.

But protecting the Yellow River is of course no easy feat; it requires lasting dedication and effort. The Yellow River Protection Law features specific regulations targeting issues like ecological protection and restoration, water conservation, flood prevention and pollution control. It also underlines the need to integrate Yellow River protection into national strategies such as the development of west China and the rise of central China, through which the Yellow River runs.

The Yellow River Protection Law doesn't simply draw on approaches already proven effective by the Yangtze River Protection Law, such as evaluation based on the integrity of aquatic life, fishing bans in vulnerable waters and ecological restoration in mining areas, but also comes with its own set of tailored systems aimed at coping with problems like excessive groundwater extraction, water and soil erosion and desertification. The flow of protection is one that cannot afford to be disturbed.

(Print Edition Title: The Flow of Protection)   

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to lanxinzhen@cicgamericas.com 

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