Yellow River Runs Black

Outside Hohhot, China the Yellow River is not yellow – it is a shade of muddy brown. But since January part of the Yellow River has been  flowing black, the result of a huge oil spill. After a pipeline burst the contamination stretched for13 miles; authorities have been busy installing floating barriers and digging diversion ditches to contain the spill. The Yellow River is the main water source in northern China’s dryland interior, provides drinking water to 140 million residents and is essential for agriculture and mining (i.e. economic development).  Already under threat from overusage, pollution and poor quality, some years the river dries before reaching the ocean.

The Yellow, often described as the Cradle of Chinese civilisation, is under threat from a growing population, a warming climate and ever-increasing extraction demands. The impact of the oil spill shows its susceptibility to man-made forces. The river’s future viability will depend on human action, particularly official policy, as much as traditional factors like rainfall and drought cycles. Valuing the  environment, if even only for economic or political (thirsty citizens) reasons,  is in the long-term interest of the government.

Troy Sternberg

  Chinese environment officials fail to stop oil slick from polluting Yellow River http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/04/oil-spill-china-yellow-river

  Silt and the future development of China’s Yellow River http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119014412/abstract

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