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Results Briefs November 16, 2017

China: Reducing Soil Erosion and Improving Flood Protection in Xining

World Bank Group

The Xining Flood and Watershed Management Project (2009-2015), supported by the World Bank, enhanced flood protection for 414,300 people, prevented nearly 5 million tons of urban wastewater from being directly discharged into rivers each year, and reduced soil erosion by more than 1 million tons annually, improving the environment and quality of life for local residents.


Xining Municipality is the capital city of Qinghai Province in northwest China. It was historically a commercial hub along the ancient Northern Silk Road's Hexi Corridor. Today, with a population of 2.12 million, it is the largest city on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, accounting for 40 percent of the province’s population and of its GDP. More than 25 percent of its population belong to 36 ethnic minority groups.

Qinghai is known as “China’s water tower” because it hosts the sources of three major rivers - the Yangtze, Yellow River, and Lancang River. However, 45 percent of the land in the province was heavily affected by erosion.

Located in the Huangshui River (a tributary of the Yellow River) Basin and at the confluence of the Nanchuan and Beichuan Rivers, Xining Municipality suffered frequent flooding and landslides caused by heavy summer rainfalls. Yet as of 2009, it was the only capital city in China without a flood warning system. 

In the watersheds around Xining, traditional farming communities use locally available surface water to irrigate their crops. Inappropriate farming and land use practices caused further land degradation and erosion, increasing the risk of flash floods and worsening damages from other natural disasters.


The project adopted an integrated participatory approach that comprised:

  • basin-wide flood and environment management, through water and soil conservation measures, waterway rehabilitation, construction of wastewater collection systems, riverside landscape improvement, and establishment of a flood warning information system;
  • participatory livelihood development that recognizes the critical role of the local communities and farmers in watershed management and mobilized them to actively participate in the entire project cycle from design to implementation and supervision, with access to information and a voice in decision making;
  • and sustainable development management, by preparing and implementing a comprehensive operation and maintenance plan covering staffing, technical support, funding and other arrangements. 


Implemented between 2009 and 2015, the project helped Xining Municipality and three counties of Huangzhong, Huangyuan, and Datong in its jurisdiction:

  • Protect 434,440 people from floods through new or rehabilitated dikes and a new flood warning and forecasting system;
  • Reduce the amount of urban wastewater discharged directly into rivers in Xining by 4,825,900 tons a year through the 87-kilometer wastewater collection networks built or upgraded under the project;
  • Apply soil and water conservation measures in an area of more than 100,000 hectares, and reduce sediment flows into the Huangshui River by over one million tons a year – or more than 20 percent;
  • Enhance the lives of local rural communities through improved village roads and field tracks, new animal shelters, and additional agricultural land on terraced slopes;
  • Provide solar water heaters to farm households, which reduced the use of firewood, protected vegetation, and saved each household RMB80-120 ($12-18) per month; and
  • Train more than 16,000 farmers and project staff in good practices to help conserve soil and water. As a result, farmers gained a better understanding of the long-term benefits of tree planting and reforestation for future income generation, and supported conservation measures such as restrictions on animal grazing in the sub-watersheds and adjacent slopes.


The Xining Flood and Watershed Management Project enhanced flood protection for 414,300 people.

Bank Group Contribution

The total project cost was US$216.62 million, of which US$100 million was financed by a World Bank loan. In addition, the World Bank provided international expertise in participatory approaches to watershed management. The project design incorporated lessons drawn from similar Bank-supported projects in China, including the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project and the Changjiang and Pearl River Watershed Rehabilitation Project.


To tackle this environmental challenge, the government invested $116 million in the project and both central and local governments showed strong commitment to project oversight and coordination. The staff of the local project management offices developed a good and lasting relationship with the local communities, enabling smooth project implementation at the watershed level.

Moving Forward

Proper operation and maintenance arrangements were made for flood-control assets to ensure sustainability after project completion. Procedures were put in place at both government and community levels. Successful lessons learned under the project were continually scaled up, and integrated in the design of the follow-up Qinghai Xining Water Environment Management Project approved in 2015, particularly the demand-driven participatory approach.