For thousands of years, the Yellow River Basin (YRB) has been the cultural and economic center of China. The nutrient-rich soils transported by the river from the Loess Plateau have supported an economy largely based on agriculture—and increasingly irrigated agriculture. Since the 1978 reforms, industries began to develop in the lower river reaches; since then, industries have gradually expanded westward toward relatively cheaper labor and more abundant raw materials. Today the basin is home to important mining, chemical, and manufacturing industries as well as several urban areas housing millions of people.
While the basin population has benefitted considerably from the large amount of natural resources in the basin, it has also faced recurring natural hazards over the centuries. The extreme inter- and intra-annual variability in precipitation has exposed the basin to destructive floods and severe droughts, while water-management strategies have been complicated by the necessity of leaving enough water in the river channel to transport the vast annual sediment load (1.6 billion tons) to the sea.
This project note is based on a report that reviews water interventions in the YRB over the past 60 years to draw lessons for the development of future high-potential interventions aimed at increased water and food security.