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Date: Tue, 20 Oct 98 16:51:54 CDT
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Article: 45716
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.624.19981021121537@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

China drafts law to save Yellow River

By Christiaan Virant, Reuters, [20 October 1998]

BEIJING - Chinese conservationists are drafting the nation's first river protection law in a desperate bid to save the once-ferocious Yellow River that is now running dry, state media said on Friday.

Dubbed China's sorrow for its disastrous floods over the centuries, the nation's second-longest waterway is slowly dying, harmed by decades of excessive water use and pollution.

For many months of the year, the parched river trickles out before reaching the sea.

But the new bill, drafted by the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, hopes to turn the tide of destruction and bring the mighty river back to life.

The river may very well dwindle if we fail to control its rapid deterioration in good time through legal means, Chinese Academy of Sciences ecologist Sun Honglie told the official China Daily.

The draft would increase central government control over water allocation from the river as well as substantially increase prices for water use.

It would also unify punishment for polluters, many of whom avoid penalties by taking advantage of lax enforcement by provincial governments.

Commission Deputy Director Chen Xiaoguo said the draft has received the full backing of China's National People's Congress, or parliament, and is likely to go to the ruling State Council for review by the year 2000.

Since it first failed to reach the sea in 1972, the 5,462-kilometre (3,394-mile) Yellow River has run dry every year since 1985.

The cutoff set a record of 226 days last year and despite devastating summer floods this year in central and northern China the 1998 drought lasted 133 days.

World Bank water experts have said the water shortages constitute a more serious long-term threat than the summer floods, which killed more than 3,600 people and caused $30 billion in direct economic losses.

A report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences attributed the problem to inadequate water resources and sharp increases in water consumption fueled by low prices and population growth.

They also blamed rampant water waste on lack of unified management over irrigation.

Of the more than 30 billion cubic metres of Yellow River water consumed each year, 92 percent goes to irrigation, said Liu Changming, a water resources expert with the academy's Geography Institute.

Yet only 30 percent of that water effectively reaches the end crops. There is an enormous amount of waste.

Although now tame, China has fought a long battle to control the unpredictable river.

Meticulous reports of the river's torment have been kept since the 7th century B.C. and flooding along its densely-populated lower reaches became so rampant in the 17th and 18th centuries the Qing dynasty emperor created a high-ranking cabinet post to address the problem.

Since 1949 the government has invested $50 billion to build eight dams and numerous dykes to control the river.

The dams worked all too well, slowing the river and allowing it to be diverted for farming.

Chen said the time had now come for strong water use legislation.

Today, problems are entirely different, Chen said. There is not enough water.