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Home > Phase 1 > Phase 1 Yellow > Yellow River Basin Focal Project (PN61)

Full Project Title: Yellow River Basin: Living with scarcity (PN61)


In the Yellow River Basin (YRB), water pollution, global warming, environmental water needs, and continuing growth of industrial and municipal water demand is worsening the ongoing problem of water scarcity. While poverty in the basin has declined rapidly over the last three decades (in line with rapid overall declines in China), pockets of poverty remain in the upstream areas.

The YRB Focal Project set out to study water poverty, water availability and access, water productivity, and water and related institutions in the Yellow River basin to develop and rank a series of high-priority interventions aimed at increasing water and food security for the poor, while maintaining environmental sustainability.

Research Highlights

Research highlights

  • The most innovative components of the research were the water-poverty analysis and the Multi Agent System (MAS) modeling that empirically showed the benefits from water rights trading taking hydrologic constraints and ecosystem requirements into account in the YRB.
  • Water Availability:  The Yellow River Basin is a highly water-scarce basin. Much of the infrastructure on this highly controlled river has been built for flood control, but climate change and droughts will bring new challenges to a basin that has only been prepared for flood management.
  • Water Productivity: Irrigation stabilizes the crop production per unit of water consumption. Croplands have higher water consumption than urban lands but lower than forestlands. Among the sub-basins, the midstream region has more important agricultural water management issues from the perspective of both crop yield and WP.
  • Water Poverty: Expanding irrigation in the YRB will help boost crop yields, which in turn will increase incomes of the poor and reduce poverty. However, there are limits to expanding irrigation coverage, and labor productivity is known to be lowest in agriculture. Therefore, accelerating a shift of rural labor force out of agriculture by creating off-farm employment opportunities in higher productivity sectors in rural areas is arguably even more important for the poor.
Project Outcomes

Project outcomes

  • For the Yellow River Conservancy Commission YRCC), authorized by the State Council to control the Yellow River water resources, the knowledge that alternative water allocation policies at YRCC do influence poverty outcomes in the basin.
  • Selected irrigation districts in the basin are aware of research results – particularly the benefit of incentives for water allocation institutions in conserving water.
  • The insights from the irrigation water reform research will help shape Chinese irrigation policy in the future, as results are being used in subsequence water pricing and irrigation reform studies.
Publications and Outputs

Selected publications and outputs

Journal papers

  1. Zongxue Xu, F.F. Zhao, and J.Y. Li. 2008. Impact of climate change on streamflow in the Yellow River Basin. In Fighting Poverty Through Sustainable Water Use: Volumes I. Proceedings of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food 2nd International Forum on Water and Food, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 10—14, pp. 167-169.
  2. Yang, Y.C.E., Cai, X. and Stipanović, D. M. 2009. A decentralized optimization algorithm for multi-agent system-based watershed management. Water Resources Research. 45, W08430, doi:10.1029/2008WR007634
  3. Yi-Chen Ethan Yang, Jianshi Zhao, and Ximing Cai. Under review. A Multi-Agent System Model for Water Allocation Management in the Yellow River Basin.
  4. Claudia Ringler, Ximing Cai, Jinxia Wang, Akhter Ahmed, Yunpeng Xue, Zongxue Xue, Ethan Yang, Zhao Jianshi, Tingju Zhu, Lei Cheng, Fu Yongfeng, Fu Xinfeng, Gu Xiaowei, and Liang You. Yellow River basin: Living with scarcity. Under review, Water International.
  5. Ximing Cai, Yi-Chen E. Yang, Claudia Ringler, Jianshi Zhao, and Liangzhi You. Agricultural Water Productivity Assessment for the Yellow River Basin. Under review, Agricultural Systems.

Online policy briefs (available in English and Chinese at

  1. Water and Poverty in China’s Yellow River Basin –By Akhter U. Ahmed, Jinxia Wang, Anjor Bhaskar, and Wahid Quabili.
  2. Water Supply and Demand in the Yellow River Basin: Opportunities from Water Savings –By Xu Zongxue, Fu Yongfeng, Cheng Lei, Sun Yongliang, Zhu Tingju, and Li Jingzong.
  3. Water Productivity Assessment for China’s Yellow River Basin–By Ximing Cai, Yi-Chen E. Yang, Claudia Ringler, and Liangzhi You.
  4. Water Policy, Management, and Institutions: The Role of Pro-Poor Water Allocation in the Yellow River Basin –By Jinxia Wang and Lijuan Zhang.
  5. Water Rights and Water Rights Trading: Option for the Yellow River Basin? By Nicola Cenacchi, Yunpeng Xue, Fu Xinfeng, and Claudia Ringler
Final Report
Project Partners

Project partners


Project Lead

Project lead


For more information on Phase 1 outputs please contact Udana Ariyawansa.