The middle reaches of the Yellow River that were long known for their thick sediment have been relatively clean for more than a decade, according to reports. Beijing News commented on Wednesday:
To the surprise of many, the clearing of the sediment is the result of market forces and the increase in economic activities, which are commonly considered to be a hazard to ecological systems.
Apart from climate change, ecological protection and water conservancy projects, the thriving sand mining along the 1,200-kilometer middle course of the Yellow River has cleared the once-muddy water. It is estimated that more than 100 million metric tons of sand are extracted from the Yellow River per year to be used as construction materials, which are constantly in demand thanks to urbanization. Technological advancements have made it easier and cheaper to extract the sand.
Also bearing fruit is the environmental protection practices over the past two decades, and more importantly, the exodus of residents from the Loess Plateau that traverses North China's Shanxi province, as well as Northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.
The shrinking population on the plateau has allowed plants to recover, contributing to the annual increase of about 15,550 square kilometers to China's forest coverage between 2010 and 2015; the largest forest expansion among all countries.
Development does not necessarily have to be at the cost of the environment, not least when governments at all levels are pressing ahead with the reforestation of arable land, a national-level policy. Quite the opposite, the epic urbanization keeps luring rural dwellers into towns and cities, laying the foundation for the reforestation policy.
Modernization does have side effects such as smog, water pollution and soil contamination, but attention has been put on efforts to address these issues.