[BEIJING] The World Association for Sedimentation and Erosion Research was launched this week in China.
One of a handful of international science organisations based in the country, WASER will bring together scientists studying erosion caused by rivers, and the resulting deposition of sediments downstream — both big challenges in China and other developing nations.
Wang Zhaoyin, the association's secretary-general, announced the launch on Tuesday (19 October) at the 9th International Symposium on River Sedimentation held in Yichang, Hubei Province.
The Beijing-based International Research and Training Centre on Erosion and Sedimentation (IRTCES) — established in 1984 by the Chinese government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — will act as WASER's secretariat, said Wang.
IRTCES researcher Zhang Yuexian told SciDev.Net that one of WASER's main roles, in partnership with IRTCES, will be to train researchers from developing countries on sedimentation research. This is important for the prevention of landslides and mudflows.
Each year, WASER will sponsor training programmes for 20 to 30 researchers and scientists, mainly from developing countries. Zhang says most of these training programmes will take place in China, where natural disasters involving landslides and mudflows are frequent and the construction of hydroelectric power projects is booming.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the latest available statistics show that landslides and mudflows caused 134 deaths and an economic loss of 3.7 billion yuan (US$447 million) in China in the first five months of 2003.
Sedimentation and land erosion are also a serious problem in other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, where they are associated with desertification and flooding.
Scientists participating in the river sedimentation symposium estimate that 60 billion tonnes of the Earth's surface soil are eroded each year, causing losses of arable land of 50,000 to 70,000 square kilometres.
Meanwhile, China has launched several big hydroelectric and canal projects in recent years, including the Three Gorges Dam and a project to conduct water from southern China to dry northern cities. Each has cost tens of billions of US dollars.
"These projects offer a chance for scientists to observe the correlation between water projects and natural sedimentation and erosion,'' Zhang says.
According to Wang, as well as conducting training, the mission of WASER will be to boost understanding and develop applications in the field of erosion and sedimentation, through international contacts among scientists, engineers, organisations, institutions and governments.
IRTCES has nominated and invited 19 scientists to compose WASER's first council and draft the statutes.