Sustainable Water Management Promises Better Livelihood for Fishermen

A fisherman profits from sustainable water management methods as he fish farms in the Dahuangbawa wetland

“Those living on a mountain live off the mountain. Those living near the water live off the water. We live on a great marshland but still have little usable land or water,” said Liu Yanjiang, a local 50 year-old fisherman living in Dahuangbawa wetland of Haihe basin.

The Haihe river, one of the largest rivers on the north China plain, was prone to severe floods during the rainy season. In the 1950s, the Chinese government established 28 flood retention areas along the Haihe river to discharge flood water and prevent catastrophic disasters from occurring. To further promote flood safety, the government also put tight controls over the dam to limit river water from entering the flood retention areas. With the risk of floods, the only economic activity that could take place in the Dahuangbawa wetland was fish farming.

To help farmers, UNDP in the 1980s assisted local communities to build fish ponds to boost their only source of income. However during non-flood seasons, restrictions over the dam meant mass water shortages for local fishermen and farmers alike.

“When water is not enough, fish-farming fails,” said Liu. “There was a drought one year. All households had wells dug near the fish ponds but well water was salty. When well water was poured into the ponds, each household lost 20,000-30,000 RMB. At present, the water level is 1.5 to 2 meters. When water is scarce, the water level is 50 cm, at most 1 meter. There is no place to retain water and there is no clean water source.”


  • The Water Governance Umbrella Programme focuses on improving sustainable water management by planning water use through seven initiatives, piloting around the Haihe basin
  • Pilot projects such as the one in Dahuangbawa have led to replenishing 10 million square meter of water per year and improving local water supply for 45,200 people
  • Best practices on flood resource utilization have helped form policy recommendations contributing to the State Council’s No.1 Central Document 2014

In order to address issues of water scarcity and pollution, under a Public-Private Partnership, UNDP with The Coca-Cola Greater China (TCCC) launched the Water Governance Umbrella Programme in 2011. One out of seven initiatives under this umbrella programme was the Integrated Water Replenish Initiative which focused on sustainable water resource management. Other partners involved were the Ministry of Water Resource (MWR) and China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE).

To help people like Liu secure a sufficient water supply, the Demo Project of Flood Utilization and Ecosystem Management in Haihe River Basin was launched to study and test best practices for scheduling and managing the flood retention basins. The goal was to manage water to improve local livelihoods and restore ecosystems.

The project identified Liu’s home, Dahuangbawa, a protected wetland area located inside the flood retention zone in the Haihe Basin, as its pilot site. UNDP helped implement methods for scheduling the release of more river water into flood retention areas during non-flood seasons. The newly-developed scheme benefitted people living in the flood retention zones and specifically those residing in Liu’s wetland region by nourishing the wetland and reestablishing biodiversity in the area.

Best practices on flood utilization, developed under this project, have helped form policy recommendations. The guidelines contributed to the State Council’s No.1 Central Document

2014, the first major policy document released by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. As a result the local government in Dahuangbawa has now expanded their efforts to bring in additional water supply by digging more channels and deepening the dam to increase reservoir capacity.

Water conservation efforts in Dahuangbawa area have significantly improved local livelihoods. The area can now replenish 10 million square meter of water per year, improving local water supply for 45,200 people. Liu, fish farming for 20 years, speaks to the success of this initiative. “In rainy seasons, we store the rain water. In dry seasons, we put water into use. This way we have plenty of water throughout the year. This is good for the industry and agriculture. Economic benefits have grown multifold.”

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