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Environmental Challenges and Impacts of Land-Use Conversion in the Yellow River Basin


  • A. Brismar


While the Chinese population continues to grow, Chinese policy makers are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task of satisfying demands for fresh water, electricity, agricultural products, etc. Not only is the irrigated land area presently shrinking, as previously cultivated is converted to various non-agricultural purposes, but additionally, advancing pollution from expanding mining industries, urban centers, and upstream input-intensive farmlands, are causing a reduction in the usability of the Yellow River water. Unfavorable climatic, topographic, and geomorphic preconditions further constrain food production potentials. The exceptionally high silt load and sedimentation rate in the Yellow River constitute another major challenge for engineers. Dam construction and maintenance work are aggravated by rapid sedimentation in reservoirs, undermining potentials for water supply storage and electricity production. Likewise, flood prevention measures in the Lower Reaches are counteracted by sediment build-up in the canal. In the entire basin, freshwater constitutes an advancing challenge, with regard to its usability, storage, allocation, and absolute seasonal availability. Based on a review of potential river ecological impacts of irrigation and multi-purpose dams, this report concludes that advancing intensification of agricultural practices and continuous construction of large dams may significantly alter riverine ecosystems with adverse implications for human livelihoods. The author argues that any larger intervention in the riverine landscape should by necessity be preceded by a comprehensive assessment of the river's various functions and values for its different user groups. Such an assessment should consider not only the physical, but also the water quality and biological aspects and their interrelations. Just as many scientists tend to focus only on a few research parameters, managerial strategies often tend to target only one or a few objectives at a time. Balancing the different interests at hand, based on a comprehensive but understandable environmental impact assessment, is identified as the key to successful integrated river basin management.

Suggested Citation

  • A. Brismar, 1999. "Environmental Challenges and Impacts of Land-Use Conversion in the Yellow River Basin," Working Papers ir99016, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:iasawp:ir99016

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. L. Sun & X. Li, 1997. "Driving Forces of Arable Land Conversion in China," Working Papers ir97076, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
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