Three Gorges Probe

Plan to tame Yangtze floods

BBC News Online
March 12, 2006

China and the UN are preparing an ambitious plan to prevent any repetition of the disastrous 1998 floods on the Yangtze river.

China and the UN are preparing an ambitious plan to prevent any repetition of the disastrous 1998 floods on the Yangtze river. The work, which will cost $10m (¬£7m), will restore lost lakes, and reduce deforestation and erosion. It is designed to save lives and livelihoods, to slow damage to the environment and to safeguard wild species. The pilot phase is expected to start in two months’ time. The scheme has been developed by Chinese researchers and colleagues from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep). It follows a visit to China in 1999 by a Unep team to establish the causes of the 1998 floods. The Yangtze, at 6,300 km (3,900 miles), is Asia’s longest river and the world’s third longest. The floods were reported to have killed 3,656 people, destroyed 5.7 million homes and damaged seven million more, and forced 14 million people to move to new areas. The economic losses were put at $31bn (¬£21bn). The team identified three factors which had significantly worsened the impact of heavy rain: deforestation and overgrazing, sharply reducing the capacity of forests and grasslands to retain water; loss of lakes and wetlands, cutting the capacity of the river’s middle and lower reaches to store water; rising erosion rates, causing rivers and wetlands to fill with silt. Forest cover in Sichuan province, it said, had fallen from 20% of the land area in the 1950s to 9% by the late 1970s. And in the early 1950s, the Yangtze basin had contained 4,033 large and small lakes, of which it estimated that about 1,100 were lost in 45 years.

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