FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

China’s Impending Water Crisis

by CESAR CHELALA

As a lot of attention is being paid to the negative consequences of environmental pollution in China, another crisis is brewing of equally dangerous consequences for people’s health and for the country’s development: water scarcity.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) report Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds states with regard to China, “climate change, urbanization trends and middle class lifestyles will create huge water demand and crop shortages by 2030.” Aside from its economic and public health costs, water scarcity also endangers economic growth and social stability.

Lack of water in China is compounded by the high levels of water pollution. Hu Siyi, vice minister at the Ministry of Water Resources stated in 2012 that up to 40 percent of China’s rivers were seriously polluted after 75 billion tons of sewage and waste water were discharged into them. He also said that about two-thirds of Chinese cities are “water needy” and that nearly 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.

It is estimated that 4.05 million hectares of land are irrigated with polluted water, which has a negative effect on crop yields and on the quality and food safety. Water pollution causes growing levels of diarrhea and viral hepatitis, particularly in children under-5. The effects on health of water pollution are particularly serious in places where industrial effluents are not controlled or there are no sewerage and wastewater treatment plants.

One of the reasons for the high levels of pollution is that, with the rapid industrialization of the country, a large number of chemical plants were built along the Yangtze River and near some critical drinking water resources. Those resources have been contaminated by large spills of some toxic chemicals such as cadmium and chromium. In addition, large portions of China’s aquifers (body of saturated rock through which water can easily move) suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater.

A 2013 report from the Geological Survey of China stated that 90% of the country’s ground water is polluted. Estimates from the Ministry of Environmental Protection say that the water from approximately 25% of China’s major rivers is so polluted that it couldn’t be used for industry or agriculture. According to the Ministry of Supervision there are approximately 1,700 water pollution accidents annually resulting in almost 60,000 premature deaths annually.

This is a paradoxical situation since China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world. However, its water resources are unevenly distributed since they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the south part of the country while the northern regions are prone to lack of water, a situation which is reaching crisis levels. 

The Ministry of Water Resources announced in 2012 the results of a survey of the country’s waterways which revealed that 28,000 rivers had disappeared over the past 20 years, raising serious fears among environmentalists and government officials. Although some officials believe that such a dramatic decline could be explained by outdated mapping techniques, experts believe that a more plausible explanation is the country’s rapid economic development and poorly enforced environmental guidelines. 

In addition, China controls the headwaters of several important rivers in Asia, such as the Irtysh, Mekong and Brahmaputra. The damming of those rivers by China has provoked protests from the countries affected. China’s actions upstream may have dramatic consequences on the lower reaches influencing water flow, floods, sedimentation levels, presence of a variety of wildlife as well as people’s livelihoods downstream. China has built as many large dams as the rest of the world put together.

Faced with this critical situation the Chinese government is taking a series of measures such as the construction of the South-North Water Transfer Project, a $62 billion enterprise twice as expensive as the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project. The aim of the South-North project is to divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year from the southern region to the Yellow and Hai rivers in north China.

Such a huge project, however, has several drawbacks. Aside from the cost, perhaps the most important is the number of people who are going to be affected by the project. More than 350,000 villagers are being relocated to make way for the canal, in many cases to low-grade farmland far from their original homes and. In addition, a project of this magnitude can destroy the natural ecology of the southern rivers with negative effects on people’s health.

Because of the doubts about the quality of the water to be diverted desalinization is being tried as an alternative.  However, desalinization uses considerable amounts of energy to produce filters, and to process and transport clean water, argues Zhang Junfeng, an environmental activist and Professor of Environmental and Global Health at the University of Southern California. He also says that desalinization is a quick fix solution which doesn’t encourage people to conserve valuable resources.

Experts argue that the Chinese government should focus on reducing the demand of water through a more rational use of limited supplies and controlling pollution. In addition, new regulations should be enacted to lead to a more efficient use of water in industry and in agriculture. New cities should be built taking into consideration the availability of water and polluters should be fined. Ultimately, many experts believe that the solution to China’s water crisis is more political than technical.

Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD. is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. 

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail