China’s Flood Control Project : a Bigger Role for Farmers and a Better Alert System

August 24, 2016

After many years as a migrant worker in various cities, Chen Yin returned to Tuoxi village recently to pick up farm work again.

A key reason for her return is that floods that inundated her farmland almost every year are finally tamed by a new sluice gate. The sluice gate is built on the Tuo River, which runs across Suzhou, East China’s Anhui Province, where Chen’s hometown is located.

“Finally I think I can have some harvest,” said Chen, 40. “Before, I ended up getting nothing although I worked hard to plant and take care of the crops.”

Farmers in neighboring villages reported a harvest increase of almost 100% last year, thanks largely to the sluice gate, which is effectively keeping flood waters at bay.

The sluice gate is a small part of a major flood management and drainage improvement project in the Huai River Basin. The $600 million project, to which the World Bank provided a loan of $200 million, covers four provinces – Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong and Henan. It was launched in 2010 and will be concluded this year.

“This project’s effects on water disaster control are very obvious,” said Shi Zhigang, director of Anhui’s foreign funding utilization office. The project also has significant positive impact on local people’s income growth and local environment, he said.

The Huai River Basin, which is the size of New Zealand and is home to more than one-tenth of China’s total population, experiences some of the country’s worst flooding. Flood and water-logging disasters occurred every three to five years as rivers, rivulets and depressions in this Basin had inadequate flood protection and poor drainage.

The most recent serious flood disaster in 2003 caused great suffering in the cities and large rural areas, resulting in direct economic losses of US$4.5 billion. Thousands of people were made homeless when their houses were inundated or collapsed.

Preventing and predicting floods

This episode triggered an Accelerated Emergency Program (AEP) at the national level to tackle the flooding problem in the Basin.

The AEP focuses on improvements to infrastructure on the Huai River and its main tributaries. The flood management project that is benefitting Chen and her fellow villagers complements the AEP and focuses on medium and small size works on the lesser branches in the poorer rural areas.

But what makes this project different from traditional flood control efforts is that it includes a disaster assessment and support system which World Bank project team leader Zhang Ximing notes is one of the project’s highlights. “These systems facilitate better forecasting of flood events, thereby enabling more efficient decision-making.”

A disaster assessment center was set up in Hefei, capital city of Anhui Province; state-of-the-art technology was introduced for the creation of data collection and processing systems at the basin level and sub-systems at the local level.

“With these systems, the benefits of dikes, canals and other physical works  are maximized,” Zhang said.

Another innovative part of the project is the introduction of a participatory approach that establishes a new paradigm between the government and the communities for the management of on-farm flood control and drainage works.

Farmer associations improve water distribution

At the center of this new approach are the farmers’ drainage and irrigation associations (FDIAs).

Previously, this work was in the hands of the government’s water resources department. However, due to budget constraints or administrative boundaries that differed from hydraulic boundaries made coordination difficult.

As a result, even though drainage canals had been constructed nearby, excess water was not drained, leaving farmland and villages subject to flooding. In the absence of  coordination of water distribution for irrigation, chaotic competition and fights among farmers ensued.

Under the project, FDIAs were established based on hydraulic boundaries. While water resources bureaus retain responsibility for the operation and management of larger works, smaller works have been transferred to FDIAs. Many FDIAs also participated in the design and construction.

Members of FDIAs, which are legal entities, have ownership of their associations. They discuss and decide the timing and sequence of drainage and irrigation activities in a democratic manner, making the process fair and efficient. They also decide  on maintenance spending  and service charges.

Zhan Jialin, a rice farmer and native of Mumahu village in Tianchang, also in Anhui Province, saw his water costs reduced by a third since his local FDIA was established in 2011.

“Now we have a complete set of mechanism for drainage and irrigation. Everything is sorted out, we have no conflict anymore,” he said.