ADB follows WB path — will it result in wetland and grassland destruction?
Asian Development Bank Loan
ADB East Asia Department is now developing a concept of 200 million loan «Inner Mongolia Road Development»( Project Number 43029- 01 ).
The project plans to upgrade to international standards a rural road that spans Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve, crosses its core area at Wuerxun River bridge and also crosses lower Kherlen River. Although official concept paper talks about upgrading path for «tractors of rural residents» and «tourism development», it also raises concern that transportation of ore and coal from growing number of mines will be the main use of the new highway.
Fig 1. Poor quality road project map from ADB concept paper (click picture to enlarge).
There is little doubt that increased traffic and pavement will worsen environmental conditions and add human pressure to national nature reserve territory. There is serious difference in environmental effects between rural road that is in place now and proposed high-class highway. Of course it is only one of several major assaults on Dalai Lake Biosphere Reserve that happen now, and is likely less detrimental than, for example, transfer of polluted water of Hailaer River into Dalai Lake. Besides road construction, opening of new mines and processing plants, as well as water infrastructure projects —are all parts of one development plan of Hulunbeier Prefecture, that leads to multiple detrimental impacts on steppe and wetlands.
Currently available project concept fails to mention that the planned road transects national level protected area, biosphere reserve and wetland listed under Ramsar Convention; it does not clearly outline types of potential impacts on wetland and grasslands to be assessed, despite the fact that the road crosses two major watercourses of the region; finally it does not set an aim to assess environmental and social soundness of the development strategy in the realm of which the proposed road renovation is supposed to happen.
World Bank footprint
The ADB stated that new project builds on achievements of WB-funded «Inner Mongolia Transportation and Trade Corridor Project». In 2006-2007 renovation of the Hailar-Manzhouli Section of Shuifenhe-Manzhouli Highway (National Road #301) included a shortcut across Hailaer River, which led to fragmentation and degradation of the Erka wetland near Zhalainuoer. Mammoth-size embankment supporting the international-class highway transected one of the most precious floodplains in Dauria for 11-13 kilometers….
Due to poor project planning monitoring of breeding bird and migrating numbers and human activities before and after the construction have not been incorporated into the process, but still several simple observations show huge environmental changes in the Erka wetland:
—The road divided the core zone of then planned Erka Nature reserve in two almost even halves. Previously the site was known both as a stop-over for many endangered species (including Siberian crane) and as a good breeding habitat for waterfowl, in particularly geese. Of, course, as soon as project was conceived, authorities adjusted the border of the nature reserve , so it does not «conflict» with the road. However, it does not make impacts on wetland less detrimental.
Fig.2. Erka Nature Reserve location. Yellow lines show borders of Erka Nature Reserve and green polygons show extent of core area with a road corridor cut through. (click picture to enlarge).
— Analysis of 2000-2010 satellite imagery shows abrupt change in habitat distribution (most clearly due to man-made inundation along the road). New bridge stands in the way of water exchange between Dalai Lake and Argun River ( now happening through Xinkaihe Canal). Of course it has many pathways for water beneath, but imagery shows a sort of artificial impoundment, with increased water levels upstream and, likely, decreased inundation in downstream wetland.
Fig.3. Erka wetland before road construction(click picture to enlarge)
Fig 4. Erka wetland in 2006, inundation is clearly seen south of the road line.(click picture to enlarge)
Fig 5. Erka wetland in 2010. Difference in inundation north and south of the road is very pronounced. New auxillary roads stretch from the Road 301 to Hailaer River bank.(click picture to enlarge)
Fig 6.Road #301 stands in the way of flood in 2009
— From field observations and interviews with local people of the area in 2007, done by student expedition supported by Conservation Leadership Programme, we know that the road provided easy access to previously hardly accessible parts of wetland (for fishing, grazing, poaching and egg collection, etc) and we must assume road as such also works as harassment factor. And 2010 satellite image clearly shows several new roads, leading to new farms and fishermen houses originating from the bridge and leading to previously inaccessible wetlands along the Hailaer River.
— clearly indicate that road construction lead to major influx of outsiders in the road-zone and now they engage in various activities along the road ( fishing, grazing, poaching and egg collection, etc).
— the Road#301 should not be viewed as stand alone assault on Erka wetland but in the context of surrounding mine, railroad and old highway, 2 canals, 2 groundwater pumping stations, sewage pond of Zhalainor town and several other structures. Their impacts on hydrology, fauna and spread of human activities into the wetland are cumulative and should have been assessed as such. As a result Erka wetland is the most modified large wetland in the whole Argun River basin.
— By crossing Erka wetlands eastwards the road also improved access to even more valuable wetlands along Erguna-Argun River, previously not very accessible, especially if we take into consideration the project of renovation of road along the border from Erka to Erguna Town. Now this fragile area containing 4 nature reserves is open for accelerated development.
The only benefit from the road shortcut across wetland known to us is shortening of the thousand-kilometer way between Harbin and Manzhouli by 10 kilometers — actually less than 13 -kilometer stretch that crosses the wetland….
Unfortunately it is not the only environmental loss brought by renovation of the highway #301, since there is evidence that the same road negatively affects Red-crowned crane habitat in Zhalong National Nature Reserve in adjacent Heilongjiang Province. Other losses undocumented, because there is little independent environmental control out there in Northeast China.
Who will be the worst: ADB or WB?
It is very alarming that in Inner Mongolia both the World Bank and ADB support very questionable projects with far-reaching negative environmental consequences. Meanwhile the only rationale to continue supporting development projects in the rather affluent PRC, would be to bring better environmental and social standards into current mode of development planning. But as we see that is exactly what is consistently does not happen, because of irresponsible behavior of both Banks.
However ADB still may learn from previous mistakes of the World Bank in the same region and sector and before providing any funding makes a conscious attempt to:
— assess environmental consequences of development policies in the area and advise Inner Mongolia Government on necessary adjustments;
— introduce mitigation measures to gurantee overall positive impact of the project activities on Dalai Lake Biosphere Reserve;
— improve wetland conservation measures along the project route and especially near river crossings, taking into consideration highly variable flow of local watercourses during 30-year climate cycle.
— Support long-term scientifically rigorous monitoring of the road impacts on species and ecosystems and make results available to the public
ADB project management could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
All these issues have not been addressed by the World Bank when implementing «Inner Mongolia Transportation and Trade Corridor Project», which resulted in serious alteration of the habitat of globally endangered species and fragmentation of important wetland.
Rivers without Boundaries.