Yellow River (Huang He)
The cradle of Chinese civilization
Originating in the Bayankala Mountains in Qinghai province in western China, it flows through 9 provinces of China and empties into the Bohai Sea.
It is called the Yellow River because huge amounts of loess sediment turn the water that colour. So much of this mineral-rich soil ends up in the Yellow River that it can fill the riverbed and thus change the river’s course.
The Yellow River is known as the "Mother River of China" and "the Cradle of Chinese Civilization" in China, as its basin is the birthplace of the northern Chinese civilizations and the most prosperous region in early Chinese history. But frequent devastating floods, largely due to the elevated river bed in its lower course, have also earned it the distinction "China's Sorrow".
The Yellow River is indicative of the problems affecting many of China's rivers. Pollution, hydropower, and intensive water extraction for human consumption, agriculture, and industrial use are all taking their toll on the river.
The Chinese government estimates that around two-thirds of the Yellow River's water is too polluted to drink and according to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based NGO, 4.3 billion tonnes of waste flowed into the Yellow River in 2005.
Around 30% of fish species in the river are believed to have become extinct and the river's fish catch declined by 40%.
The river is extremely prone to flooding and accounts for some of the deadliest disasters in human history. In 1931 an estimated 1 million died in a massive flood. A key reason for the severity of the floods is deforestation up river and the embankment of tributaries for irrigation. These practices date back thousands of years.