In Search for Livelihood in Zhangye, the Silk Road Gatetown to China

Rene Castro Blog, Reports November 11, 2015

By NORIKAZU FURUKAWA

GPSS-GLI Oasis Unit seeks to understand how people in Zhangye, in Gansu Province of China, a region facing a severe water scarcity, observe the past five years in order to help the local policymakers evaluate their regulation.

The City of Zhangye, located on the southern edge of Gobi Desert, entirely depends for its water supply on Heihe River that carries snowmelt from Qilian Mountain to the South.

The City of Zhangye, located on the southern edge of Gobi Desert, entirely depends for its water supply on Heihe River that carries snowmelt from Qilian Mountain to the South.

Today, water scarcity attracts utmost attention worldwide. Lake Chad, located at the intersection between Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger, once posed a threat to the locals’ livelihood when its area shrank almost 95% over the latter half of the 20th century (though the situation has somehow improved to date). A similar threat has confronted people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. There had not been a significant amount of rain in the State of California until the recent extreme flooding. Some hard measures, such as use restrictions, were taken to cope with the severe water scarcity. Across the Pacific Ocean, we also find societies in deserts and drylands which have been dealing with difficulties of the like. Zhangye City, Gansu Province in China, is one of them.

Figure 1: “Planetary Boundary” by Kate Raworth

Figure 1: “Planetary Boundary” by Kate Raworth

Efforts are being made to mitigate and adapt to the situation. Chinese authorities, both national and local, have five-year guidelines since 1953 (it was first called plans but recently is called guideline to reflect the country’s shift to a market economy). They describe the development goals to be achieved in the next five years, and 2015 is the last year of the 12th five-year guidelines. Zhangye’s 12th guideline outlines how the city will commit to developing its economy in an environmentally sustainable way. One of their goals is construction of the local ecology supported with monitoring and evaluating systems for various resources including the scarce water.

Coordinated by Heng Yi Teah, a doctoral student, a team of five graduate students from GPSS-GLI, with assistance from Professor Eiji Yamaji, Assistant Professor Tomohiro Akiyama and Academic Staffer Izumi Ikeda, visited Zhangye City seeking to help the local government assess their policy implementation. They tried to do so by informing the government how people in the city observe the local environmental and socio-economic changes in the past five years, and how these observations are related to the evaluation of the villagers’ own livelihoods. The students gained the information by interviewing farmers at more than twenty villages in Zhangye.

For identifying the environmental factors to ask questions about, the conceptual framework of planetary boundary (see Figure 1) was adopted. This famous framework was proposed by Kate Raworth who is known as a doughnut economist; her idea is that there are limits for resource exploitation and pollution (environmental ceiling) within which economic activities can be sustained, while there are minimum requirements for development to fulfill the basic human rights (social foundation).

Figure 2: Interview at Xiejiawan, a village north to Zhangye National Wetland Park

Figure 2: Interview at Xiejiawan, a village north to Zhangye National Wetland Park

Among the factors shown in Figure 1, the students chose the quality and quantity of available water (freshwater use), air quality (atmospheric aerosol loading), the use of pesticide/herbicide (nitrogen and phosphorus cycle & chemical pollution) and the area of wetland reclaimed from farmland (land use change) as the key variables to interview the farmers about.

The team spent five days to conduct interviews around Heihe River, the chief water source of the city. During the interviews, GPSS-GLI students were joined by Shengnan Zhou and Bingyu Wang, two local students at the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), to make the conversations with the farmers smooth. From the upper to lower reaches of the river, the dominant landscape is cornfield. All houses in the farmlands are very similar, and oftentimes their outer walls are connected to one another. Around the entrance of each house are signs with Chinese letters, phrases showing wishes for peace and happiness (see Figure 2). All the houses visited were dwelled by friendly owners.

The results are still being analyzed and will shortly be reported.

 

In the front (from the left): Ricardo San Carlos, Shengnan Zhou (CAREERI), Sijia Zhao and Heng Yi Teah; In the Back: Norikazu Furukawa, Orlando Vargas Rayo, Tomohiro Akiyama, Izumi Ikeda and Bingyu Wang (CAREERI).

In the front (from the left): Ricardo San Carlos, Shengnan Zhou (CAREERI), Sijia Zhao and Heng Yi Teah;
In the Back: Norikazu Furukawa, Orlando Vargas Rayo, Tomohiro Akiyama, Izumi Ikeda and Bingyu Wang (CAREERI).