According to an article in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of the Human Environment, the rich ecosystem of the Three-River Headwater region where the glacial headwaters of China's three great rivers originate: the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancangjiang Rivers, is slowly deteriorating (Zhao and Zhou 2005 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). Located in the middle of the Tibetan Plateau in China, it covers 363,000 square kilometres and houses China's largest wetlands and the world's richest biodiversity at the highest altitude (Committee 2009 as cited in Wang et al. 2010).
Rodent infestations were quickly increasing, droughts were becoming longer and longer and the amount of clean, fresh water leaving the area decreased more than 20% in the past 50 years. Overshadowing all of this was the devastation caused by the human impact on this environment. Overgrazing, poaching of plants and wildlife and gold mining all caused this giant conservation area to be destroyed, bit by bit (Zhao and Zhou 2005 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). It had come to the point where one-fifth of the species in the region were threatened (Cai 2008 as cited in Wang et al. 2010).
As a result, in 2000, The Chinese government protected this region by classifying it as an ecological reserve and began the unique Ecological Protection and Restoration Program (EPRP) with the development of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (Wang et al. 2010). By implementing grazing bans, wetland conservation and most important of all, ecological migration, the EPRP hopes to resolve this environmental problem. The Chinese government is investing the equivalent of over $11,000,000 CND into what is the country's largest ecological migration to date (Wang et al. 2010). One hundred thousand local herdsmen and their families need to be relocated, with the belief that without human presence, the ecosystem will heal itself.
To date, the success of the ecological migration has been remarkable. Relocating 100,000 people is not an easy task, yet China has handled the matter exceptionally well, by providing incentives that are created to be almost impossible to refuse. Each family who agrees to move is given a free 80 square meter house and an allowance of up to 8,000 Yuan per year in addition to many job opportunities and training in areas such as machine repair, construction, cooking, vegetable growing and more (Ga 2008 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). Respecting that more than 90% of these migrants are Tibetan, the Chinese government has made the offer most attractive by showing sensitivity to the cultural needs of this group. Tibetan architectural styles were used to build the homes and the interiors are decorated as their customs require. As well, other community buildings were erected for cultural celebrations and events (Qiang 2008 as cited in Wang et al. 2010).
The ecological migration of the Three-River Headwater region has had many rewards, but when dealing with this number of people, there are always some problems. In the communities that were established by the government for the migrants there were a large number of surplus workers. Without a quick and carefully planned remedy many of these workers might feel the need to return to their previous homes, which would be counterproductive to the plan (Wang and Jiao 2008 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). The imposed changes in their living environments - from cold meadows with beautiful vistas to a more urban landscape has been a difficult adaptation for some and has led to some migrants returning to grazing (Xu 2008 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). In some cases, the Chinese government must invest significantly to create meaningful jobs in these communities giving the migrants a reason to stay and raise their families. In other cases, for those who don’t adapt, alternatives must be made available.
Overall this ecological rescue attempt has been a great success. According to the results of a field and remote sensing investigation, "Implements of ecological migration and grazing bans have resulted in a substantial increase in grass-land coverage and biodiversity (Jiang and Dai 2009 as cited in Wang et al. 2010). China's recent economic growth has been the fastest among major nations and along with this its environmental degradation has increased exponentially. The work that the EPRP has done with the Three-River Headwater region casts a positive light on China. This will, no doubt, garner international respect and support from around the world for this ‘Made in China’ solution.
Wang, Zongming, Song Kaishan, and Liangjun Hu. "China's Largest Scale Ecological Migration in the Three-River Headwater Region." AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 39.5-6 (2010): 443-46. BioOne. 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.
Yangtze River. Digital image. Escape2asia. Web. 14 Oct. 2010.