A warning from an ancient oasis: Intensive human activities are leading to potential ecological and social catastrophe

Shaozhong Kang*, Xiaoling Su, Ling Tong, Jianhua ZHANG, Lu Zhang, W. J. Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


The Shiyang River Basin is an inland river basin in the Hexi Corridor, Gansu Province, northwest China. Shiyang is the largest basin in terms of human population density and has the highest exploitation of water resources in the northwest. Serious water shortages constrain social and economic development, and the area has some of the worst ecological and environmental deterioration in China. From historical data and recent observations, we have analysed changes in water systems in the Minqin oasis, at the end of the river basin, and assessed impacts and consequences of a changing climate and intensive human activity. Historically, climate change has been the main cause of changes in the oasis. In the last 50 years, however, a major influence has been intense human activity in the basin. With increasing population (159% in 50 years), the amount of cultivated land has been gready expanded (by 51%). Many reservoirs have been built by damming rivers and large-scale irrigation has been introduced in the middle reaches of the basin. The introduction of leakage-free canals and more extensive exploitation of underground water have further expanded the irrigated area. Water use by humans has exceeded the carrying capacity of the water resources of the basin, which has led to a dramatic shift in water allocation between the upper and lower reaches and a rapid drop in the water table in the Minqin oasis (by as much as 14 m). The oasis is shrinking, natural vegetation that relies on underground water is disappearing, and desertification is accelerating. An ancient oasis that can be traced back 2000 years is disappearing and this must be a warning sign for future generations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-447
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

User-Defined Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Irrigation
  • Oasis
  • Shiyang River Basin
  • Water resources


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