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Thursday, December 02, 1999, updated at 09:30(GMT+8)
China China to Tackle Yellow River Problems

Although the disastrous floods predicted for China's Yellow River this year never happened, water conservation authorities are still uneasy. Danger lurks in the quiet river waters, warns Eh Jingping, director of the Yellow River Water Conservancy Committee.

China mobilized millions of people and spent a large sum of money to prepare for floods forecast for this summer on the Yellow River.

Eh said that the small amount of rain this summer produced no flooding on the Yellow River, but this doesn't mean severe floods will not occur again.

In the coming century the river will face three major problems - - floods, dry patches, and environmental deterioration, with floods being the Number One threat, Eh said.

A plan to tackle major problems of the Yellow River and guide the solutions for the 21st century has been established by Eh's committee and is being discussed by hundreds of renowned scientists.

Under the plan, a sand control system will be completed by 2030 based on water conservancy projects built at Xiaolangdi, Qikou and Guxian in the middle reaches of the Yellow River. In the lower reaches, focus will be on dike construction and silt elimination.

China's second longest river and the "cradle of Chinese civilization," the Yellow River winds through nine provinces. Some 107 million people live in the river basin areas.

In the past 2,000 years, floods have burst through the riverbank 1,500 times, each time leaving tens of thousands of people homeless and causing enormous economic loss.

Due to heavy sand deposits, the riverbed at some parts of the lower reaches has risen to become higher than the horizon line, possibly leading to some of the worst floods.

In the first five decades of this century, seven such bank bursts were recorded, with the most serious leaving three million people homeless in 1937.

Since the founding of New China in 1949, the government has spent about one billion US dollars on the Yellow River treatment. Since then, the banks have remained intact.

About 1,400 km of riverbanks have been raised and reinforced in the lower reaches, where no bank burst has occurred in the past 53 years.

However, the situation on the river is not yet stable.

Xu Fuling, a veteran expert in flood control, said that " because of silt and environmental degradation, some parts in the lower reaches are as dangerous as they were 150 years ago when the river last changed its course."

Besides unpredictable floods, the problem of dry river patches has drawn much attention. Since the early 1990s, some parts of the river have dried up every year, with the longest period being 226 days in 1997.

Although the river was dry for only 42 days this year, thanks to a use-conservation program which ordered the provinces along the upper reaches to use less water, experts say the problem still exists.

The Yellow River contains two percent of China's water resources, but it feeds 12 percent of the total population and irrigates 15 percent of all arable fields in China.

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