AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN
Questions Regarding the Consequences of the CAE's “Strategy Recommendations” for the Amur Heilong River Basin
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Because many aspects of the resource crisis have already hit hard in China's section of the Amur-Heilong, the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) undertook a strategic assessment of the resource base and has developed recommendations to ensure sustainability when "Revitalizing the Old Industrial Bases of the Northeast". It took just one century of development (with substantial international involvement) to convert nearly pristine northeast China into an area on the brink of ecological crisis. Northeast China is now an area where 45 percent of the forest cover is immature tree stands too young to harvest, large rivers too polluted to be used for drinking water, and mismanaged plains with drying wetlands devastated by increasing floods. Despite all these disasters, the final CAE report states that the region is still far richer in natural resources than other parts of China , and the current "crisis" is due more to gross mismanagement than to natural resource limitations. CAE therefore recommends improved management.
China 's stated policies are quite satisfactory when compared with those of its northern neighbor. There is a clear multifaceted strategy for domestic economic development through "The Revitalizing of Old Industrial Bases in the Northeast." This policy has a complex but clear international dimension mostly to secure access to resources of neighboring countries. It includes environmental safeguards developed by academia to clarify environmental safety and resource availability issues. It would be overoptimistic to expect government to go beyond these measures and on its own consider transboundary environmental issues arising from this development strategy.
In developing recommendations, CAE had no intention or mandate to deal with basin-wide issues, therefore ignored environmental impacts in Russia and Mongolia . But we have to look at the whole basin. We therefore pose several questions for further consideration of basin-wide consequences of “Revitalization” policy. Questions follow selected recommendations of the CAE.
#1. "Land use: Arable land area should not be increased; forest, grassland, and wetland areas should not decline any further." ( LINK ).
Question: How will limitations imposed in China affect neighboring Russia and Mongolia , where arable land is also located in wetland areas (mostly floodplains)?
Question: Most remaining wetlands are transboundary, how can they be protected if economic pressure in one country increases due to limits imposed on farmland area in its neighbor?
#2. "Agriculture: Given its obvious advantages, the area should become the biggest grain producing base in the country, with the proportion of irrigated land increasing where conditions allow."
Question: How would an increase in irrigated land influence Amur-Heilong River hydrology?
Question: How would increasing the area of rice paddies, mostly expected to occur in the Sanjiang plain, influence transboundary pollution by pesticides and other pollutants?
#3. "Forestry: It is necessary to continue along the already selected course of reforms and protections to ensure sustainability of forest use." ( LINK ).
Question: How will the continuation and strengthening of limitations on logging in China , when coupled with growing demand for timber in China , increase pressure on forests in adjacent Russian provinces?
Question: A major cause of the 1998 Songhua floods was mismanagement of watershed forests and floodplain wetlands. What are projections for flood patterns in the Amur-Heilong River 's main channel if similar pressures increase over next 25 years?
#5. "Mineral resource base: Increase efforts in geological surveys to ensure greater availability of mineral resources; increase mining operations in neighboring countries." ( LINK ).
Question: How will the current trend in transfer of obsolete and environmentally damaging mining technologies be managed?
Question: How will the "side effects" of ecological devastation around remote mining settlements be managed?
#6. "Water Environment: Preserve water quality and aquatic environments; prevent pollution as a major task of "Revitalizing the Old Industrial Bases of the Northeast". ( LINK ).
Question: How to bring the restoration of natural fish stocks into this equation, which are both an important transboundary resource and indicator of healthy river condition?
Question: How to balance this goal with objectives set for expanding irrigated agriculture in a transboundary context?
#8. "...Ecosystem carrying capacity is already exceeded by the levels of industrial and agricultural development in some areas. On the basis of comprehensive water-saving measures, we should carefully proceed with water transfer projects in priority areas." ( LINK ).
Question: Will proposed water transfers decrease incentives for introducing costly water-saving measures?
Question: What is the actual demand for water transfers in the next 30 years if we take into account not only the adjacent Liao River , but the thirsty 3H (Hai, Huai, and Huanghe) basins?
Question: If water infrastructure is installed, what tools do we have at hand to assure that overall withdrawal does not exceed the agreed limits, and what international body could set and monitor such limits?
The questions listed above represent examples of problems that will soon arise and must be answered if we are to consider the long-term well-being of the ecosystems of the Amur-Heilong basin.
Proposals to safeguard basic environmental safety in China appear then to actually reinforce the "doomsday scenario" for the Amur-Heilong River basin as a whole rather than confronting the issues in a constructive manner. To reverse the alarming environmental trends, we must address many difficult questions, including:
How do cultural differences in perception of "wild nature" complicate agreement on which natural qualities should be preserved in different parts of the shared basin?
How can the basin as whole and neighbors in particular benefit from Chinese environmental policies that get stronger day by day?
Are there policy mechanisms similar to those put forward in the CAE assessment that would encourage China to consider sustainable resource use in Russia ? Given the numerous differences between the two countries, would such considerations really be useful for biodiversity conservation?
Is it wise to insist on establishing an international basin management body given it is known that countries in the basin favor highly unsustainable, environmentally unsafe development options with respect to transboundary issues? What type of international process and interaction, if any, can best help countries of the basin to coordinate and harmonize national environmental policies to safeguard the environmental well-being of the Amur-Heilong River?
Map collection: Environmental impacts of economic development
GIS: Human footprint
Web-site: Programs “Development of Russian Far East and Transbaikalia” “Development of East Siberia and the Far East” and their environmental implications: link to projects http://regionalistica.ru/project and atlas http://neweconomy.ru/en/index.htm
Cumulative impacts -how much is affected?