70 years on, China sees success in taming Huaihe River
HEFEI -- Liu Keyi, 86, living along the Huaihe River, has witnessed more than 10 severe floods in his life. However, when facing the severe flooding this summer, he was not as worried as he used to be.
"In the past, people would be in a hurry to evacuate when it rained for three days. Today, we confident of our safety as we live on the reinforced and elevated 'zhuangtai,' a residential structure on raised ground that functions as a safe haven from river floods," said Liu.
The 1,000-km-long mainstream of the Huaihe River originates in Henan Province and traverses Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. The Huaihe River basin also spans the provinces of Hubei and Shandong. Known as one of the most untamed rivers in China, it floods every three to four years on average.
In October 1950, the central government issued a circular to launch the Huaihe River flood control project.
China's late chairman Mao Zedong called on the country to "cure" the Huaihe River in 1951, followed by the issuance of a series of government policies aimed at controlling the flood-prone river.
Liu can never forget the flood in the year of 1950.
"Many dikes were breached, and surging waters swallowed our villages and farmlands, leaving many people homeless," recalled Liu.
Historical documents show that the raging floodwaters claimed 489 lives and toppled more than 890,000 rooms that year.
Due to these circumstances, the Huaihe River became the first to be harnessed comprehensively after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
According to a white paper issued by the Huaihe River Commission of the Ministry of Water Resources, the government has invested over 900 billion yuan (134.4 billion U.S. dollars) in taming the river over the past 70 years.
As of June this year, more than 6,300 reservoirs have been constructed and some 63,000 kilometers of levees have been built and reinforced in the Huaihe River basin to protect people and property from the recurring floods.
"These major water conservancy projects have played a key role in harnessing the Huaihe River," said Gu Hong, deputy director of the Huaihe River Commission of the Ministry of Water Resources.
Meanwhile, with the advanced flood observation system and the introduction of cutting-edge technology, floods are more precisely predicted and timely alerted.
"The automatic monitoring and reporting system gathers and transmits statistics of water levels of main hydrological stations every six minutes, and the flood prevention communication system can automatically send warning messages to residents once it detects a potential flood risk," said Gu.
These efforts have proven effective.
Facing the more serious flood this year, no casualties were reported and about 5,000 people were evacuated, compared to the situation in 1991 when more than 500 people were killed and over one million were evacuated.
Guan Fengxiang, a 59-year-old in Huaiyuan County, Anhui Province, often swims with his friends in Jingshanxia, a section of the Huaihe River.
The place, which is favored by swimmers, used to be a "forbidden area" for swimming in the 1980s due to severe pollution.
Huaihe River basin contributes 9 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and one-sixth of the grain output. However, rapid economic and social development once came at the price of environmental degradation and pollution.
"It was rare to detect any living beings from water samples collected from the Huaihe River at that time due to excessive discharges of industrial waste and household garbage," said Yang Gang, who has spent decades analyzing water samples from the river.
In 1995, the State Council issued a circular to clean the river and rolled out a raft of measures to prevent and control water pollution.
After decades of anti-pollution efforts, the main emissions of chemical oxygen demand and ammonia and nitrogen into the river have decreased over 80 percent from the levels in 1993.
Meanwhile, 32 wetland nature reserves and 104 national water conservancy scenic spots have been established as of now.
"Dozens of living beings can be detected from the water samples in recent years as the ecosystem of the river has been rapidly restored," said Yang.
In 2018, China unveiled a plan to promote the development of the Huaihe River green economic belt to foster regional economic and ecological development.
"We work to improve the river environment, allowing people along the river to enjoy the benefits from green development," said Wan Ye, an official with the Huaihe Valley Ecology and Environment Administration of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
Wang Yong, who used to live in the floodplain, never expected that he would live a stable life in a two-story house with refined decorations at the age of 46.
"Plagued by floods in the past, we didn't dare to buy decent furniture or electric appliances, let alone decorate our houses, for fear that everything would be washed away," recalled Wang.
Things have changed for the better since the local government organized the relocation of residents from flood diversion areas as well as flood land on a voluntary basis since 2010.
By the end of 2019, 380,000 residents had been resettled to give way to the river and embrace a new life.
Wang's new house is in the Huangwan Township, Fengyang County in Anhui Province, which is about 3 km from his previous home.
"The town where we live now has everything from a school and hospital to a shopping mall and leisure square. We can finally settle down, decorate our homes and earn a better living," said Wang, who made over 100,000 yuan in 2019 by doing business.
Besides relocation, the local government is changing some flood diversion areas into flood-protected zones, so that people living inside can be free from losses brought by floods.
"While reducing the number of flood diversion areas, we are dredging the river channel to increase water discharge and also improving the remaining flood diversion areas in an effort to build a more scientific, efficient and humane flood control and disaster relief system," said Yang Feng, an official with the Huaihe River Commission of the Ministry of Water Resources.