Criticism flows against dam on Yellow River

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 1996, 12:00am

Chinese intellectuals have switched from attacking the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River to attacking the Communist Party's ambitious, but flawed, projects to dam the Yellow River.

In the latest of a series of pungent criticisms, the Guangming Daily has warned that the Yellow River, the second longest river in China, will become the first to be transformed into one which never reaches the sea. So much water is being diverted upstream by a series of dams and irrigation projects that, for lengthy periods, the lower reaches are completely dry.

'This is not an exaggerated threat intended to frighten people. It could easily happen,' said Huo Mingyuan , a researcher at the National Comprehensive Inspection Committee under the State Council.

This year 1,000 kilometres of the river in eastern China were completely dry for 150 days, compared to 110 days in 1995. In the 1970s and 1980s the river would dry up in May or June but in the past few years the Yellow River has dried up as early as February, depriving peasants and factories hundreds of kilometres further upstream.

It is already causing incalculable losses to the developed economies of the downstream regions such as Shandong and Henan, warned an opinion piece by Liu Jingzhe . He claimed that water shortages caused losses totalling 10 billion yuan (HK$9.3 billion) this year, compared to six billion yuan recorded in 1995.

Further projects are under way which will cut the flow of water still further. Among the large-scale hydro-engineering projects nearing completion are the Longyang dam and reservoir in Qinghai province and the expansion of the Liujia reservoir in Gansu province.

Experts calculate that since 1983 the volume of water entering Shandong province, one of the country's chief grain baskets, has been cut from 42.5 billion cubic metres to 35 billion cubic metres.

By 2010 it will be cut to an estimated 27.8 billion cubic metres because six major engineering projects along the middle and upper reaches of the river are scheduled to be completed.

The Guangming Daily said it might be even worse because some local leaders were putting forward additional projects, such as the Shuotian Canal in Shanxi province, to divert still more water.

'It is like winning a sesame seed but losing a watermelon,' said the Guangming Daily quoting a Chinese proverb. It said the canal would benefit local people but deprive others.

Many experts now argue the only solution is to divert water from the Yangtze River, but this is a long term solution. In the meantime the Guangming Daily argues that money should be diverted from dams into investments which will cut water losses and reduce the water consumed by agriculture.