People’s Republic of China: Sanjiang Plain Wetlands Protection Project

Evaluation Document | 12 January 2016

The Sanjiang Plain wetlands, located in the northeastern Heilongjiang Province, comprise one of the richest areas of globally significant biodiversity in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) but also one of the country’s most important food production regions. The area of the wetlands has been reduced by 80% from its original size since the 1950s due to multiple pressures, most notably drainage to reclaim land for farming. In support of these challenges and at the request of the PRC, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan for $15 million was cofinanced by a Global Environment Facility grant of $12.14 million that was administered by ADB.

The project’s main goal was to improve management of natural resources in order to protect globally significant species and sustain economic development. The purpose of the project was to achieve an integrated conservation and development model to protect the natural resources (biodiversity, water, forests) of the Sanjiang Plain wetlands and their watersheds from continued threats while improving the well-being of local communities.

This project performance evaluation report was undertaken as a joint evaluation exercise with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) of the PRC, with the MOF assisting in the desk review and the independent evaluation mission.

The project is rated successful. The project successfully increased and improved upland forest cover, restored degraded wetlands, improved wetland hydrology, increased incomes of affected households through alternative livelihoods, undertook wetland conservation education, and established wetland management capacity. Some shortcomings in design led to less conclusive outcomes on improving biodiversity in the Sanjiang Plain. Overall, however, the project represented a significant step forward in addressing the challenges facing the Sanjiang Plain wetlands.

A number of lessons can be drawn from the project. Strong leadership and ownership, as evidenced through the commitment of the institutional stakeholders and project management office, undoubtedly contributed to the project’s overall success. The survey and focus group discussions with affected people during this evaluation clearly demonstrated that the project’s pioneering and successful provision of alternative livelihoods through noncash compensation or in-kind support can work in wetland restoration projects. Projects aimed at achieving ecological and biodiversity gains face significant monitoring challenges that should not be underestimated. Clear communication and understanding on financing arrangements is essential during the design of complex co-financed projects to avoid delays in implementation.