Chinese government agrees to protect Yangtze River

Posted on 21 April 2005

Provincial governors and key ministers from China’s water, environment, forest, and agriculture sectors in the Yangtze River basin met to develop a common strategy and action plan for protecting the entire basin.
Beijing, China – Provincial governors and key ministers from China’s water, environment, forest and agriculture sectors in the Yangtze River basin met to develop a common strategy and action plan for protecting the entire basin.

Participants attending the Yangtze Forum, which took place in Wuhan, China from 16–17 April, discussed sustainable ways to ensure that the region’s development is not at the expense of the health of the basin. WWF, which has collaborated with the Chinese government since 1980 in the conservation of the Yangtze River basin, is a key initiator and supporter of the Forum. 

"This gathering will give all those involved in managing Yangtze resources a chance to go beyond their sectoral or local concerns and interests and work together to balance conservation with development in the entire river basin," said Li Lifeng, WWF China Freshwater and Marine Programme Officer. 
From its source on the Tibetan Plateau to its mouth in East China Sea, the Yangtze encompasses a variety of ecosystems – from mountains, grasslands, and forest to marshlands, lakes and streams – all of which are increasingly being impacted by developments such as roads, dams, factories and cities. 
With a length of 6,378km, the Yangtze River is the world’s third longest river. Its basin, covering 1.8 million km2, is home to about one third of the Chinese population – more than 420 million people – and is the habitat of the giant panda, Siberian crane, leopard and Yangtze River dolphin.
Forty per cent of China’s freshwater resources – more than 70 per cent of rice, 40 per cent of grain and 40 per cent of China’s GDP – are the direct result of the Yangtze River.
Finding a balance between socio-economic development and environmental needs is an ever-increasing challenge. Dams and thousands of kilometres of dykes have already cut off the river links to lakes, which once formed a complex wetland network fulfilling important natural functions such as spawning and feeding for fish. Intensive land reclamation has created agricultural and urban settlements on former floodplains and lakes.

In the past 50 years, more than 800 lakes have been lost due to reclamation. There has been a 75 per cent decline in fisheries, and 73 per cent of the basin’s pollution – an annual waste discharge of about 25 billion tons – is dumped in the main river course, affecting drinking water for more than 500 cities. Severe flooding is now an almost annual event with thousands of lives lost and economic losses worth more than US$70 billion in the last 15 years.
‘With China set to become an economic goliath, the launch of the Yangtze Forum is a crucial moment in history," said Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme.

"It offers a chance for the best pay-off of any economic development – the protection of irreplaceable natural resources such as wetlands and rivers.”  
At the conclusion of the Forum, participants signed the Yangtze Declaration, demonstrating their consensus on the urgent need to sustainably develop the Yangtze basin.

As the next step, key ministers, with technical guidance from WWF, will take the lead in developing a master plan for the integrated management of Yangtze resources. The Hunan provincial government has also agreed to host the 2nd Yangtze Forum in 2006. 

WWF is demonstrating and advocating the integrated management of the Yangtze, finding a way to work with, rather than against, the river. It has been working at both the policy level and in the field towards restoration of the balance of nature and people in the central Yangtze since the 1990s. 
Notes for editors: 

• A main component of the solution being put forward by WWF in China is integrated river basin management (IRBM), which aims to promote better management and preservation of water resources, the ecosystem and biodiversity within river basins, while improving the environmental quality and living standard of people. WWF co-funded the IRBM Task Force with the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), a high level international advisory board to the Chinese government. 

• WWF is also working on the ground in the Yangtze basin to promote a more sustainable approach to river management. In Hubei Province, the WWF-HSBC Yangtze Programme is working with local authorities to re-establish natural connections between wetlands and the Yangtze in order to restore the area’s ‘web of life.’ A way has been devised to re-introduce water and fish fry into the wetland area. The floodgates of a dam, the sole function of which was once to prevent and drain off floods, will now be opened seasonally, taking into account the fish breeding season and allowing fish to flow into the wetlands from the Yangtze. The programme is also introducing alternative fishing in Zhangdu Lake and Lake Hong. These two lakes were heavily degraded due to intensive fish and crab farming, fish nets, and polders. By restoring aquatic plants in the lakes, water quality has significantly improved and the highly endangered Oriental white stork has returned for the first time in ten years.

• WWF is also working with farmers in the Dongting and Poyang Lake wetlands to develop alternative livelihoods, new land use and flood management approaches to realize an eco-system-based approach to the Yangtze Basin. 
• The WWF report, Rivers at Risk, identifies the top 21 rivers at risk from dams being planned or under construction. It shows that over 60 per cent of the world’s 227 largest rivers have been fragmented by dams, which has led to the destruction of wetlands, a decline in freshwater species - including river dolphins, fish, and birds, and the forced displacement of tens of millions of people. The report highlights the Yangtze as the river at most risk with 46 large dams planned or under construction. 
• Chinese government support for wetland conservation was demonstrated with the approval of the Wetland Conservation Project Plan in April 2004. Under the plan, the Chinese government committed that by 2030, 90 per cent of natural wetlands will be effectively protected, the amount of Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) will be increased from 30 to 80, and the amount of national wetlands nature reserves should be increased from 353 to 713.

For further information:
Caroline Liou, Communications Manager
WWF China
Tel: +86 10 6522-7100 ext 3239
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager
WWF Global Freshwater Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9030