Policy study on water management in the Huai-Hai River Basin


Severe water shortages and declining water quality plague northern China as rapid development of industrial and agricultural production takes place in areas of high population density.

  • Executing agency: UN/DESA Division for Sustainable Development
  • Start date: 1 July 1997
  • End date: 31 December 1998
  • Total budget: USD 121,167

Since the mid-1980s, DESA has been supporting the Ministry of Water Resources of China and related provincial departments in addressing water resource development for food production, urban development and inter-provincial water sharing. Detailed environmental and economic assessments have been carried out across China’s diverse economic and physical landscapes.

North China Plain

China's semi-arid Huai-Hai Plain supports some of the country's largest urban and industrial concentrations and most intensive irrigated agriculture. This area of roughly one half million square kilometre straddles five provinces and includes the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin. The Plain comprises the lower reaches of the Huang (Yellow), Huai and Hai River Basins which drain into the Bo Hai Sea across a broad alluvial plain. The plain is estimated to have some 180,000 km2 of arable land of which 56% is irrigated. Groundwater development in the Plain started in the mid-1940s with the advent of major irrigation projects. By the early 1980s it had become apparent that in many areas of the Plain, groundwater abstraction was exceeding rates of natural recharge. The groundwater investigation project (CPR/81/036), which operated from 1982 to 1988, carried out an assessment of the natural recharge of groundwater in the Huang-Huai-Hai Plain.

Water use planning and management in the Republic of China, though a critical factor in the development of the economy as a whole, has not been based upon the use of empirical data and systematic mathematical models. The result, particularly in areas of high population density such as North China, has been severe water shortages and in some cases, declining water quality. The rapid development of industrial and agricultural production is leading to shortages of fresh water and the problem of water pollution is becoming increasingly acute.

The North China Water Resources Management Project (CPR/88/068) was implemented by DESA and the People's Republic of China State Science and Technology Commission to provide the Chinese Government with access to technologies and expertise in water resources, economics and decision support systems which were only available outside China.

The 33 month project (1991-1993) provided development assistance and technical training in integrated resource management including: macro-economic based, multiple objective water resources planning processes, economic and water resource mathematical optimization modeling, development of information systems, and implementation of a decision support system. The project also provided assistance in the co-ordination of water resources information and management objectives among agencies. The development of a comprehensive database on hydrologic, economic and socio-economic information is a major accomplishment of this project.

Water resources management and macro-economic models were also produced to conduct resource management, policy and economic studies tackling specific problems at eight study centres in seven provinces or municipalities. The information, training and models developed by this project encourage integrated resources management and provide new methods for decision makers to analyze alternatives and possible consequences of policy actions.

Xinjiang Province

The techniques and the capacity to use them are already being applied in another United Nations project, the Water Master Plan for North Xinjiang, completed in 1995. The main input came from the North China Water Resources Research Centre established under the North China Water Management Study project, in conjunction with the Institute of Water Conservancy and Hydro-electric Power Research. There was consequently a further transfer of capability to the Xinjiang Water Resources Bureau.

Guizhou Province

In Guizhou Province, one of the poorest in China, a diagnostic assessment of the water sector was carried out by a team of national consultants with the detailed guidance of a water resources advisers from DESA. The objective was to test the feasibility of carrying out a rapid assessment of a complex sector using national personnel who were able to draw on international examples and assess a range of alternative management options for advancing the performance of water planning and management in the province to address local poverty and environmental issues.