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    Growth leaves country high and dry
Hu Cong
2004-12-28 06:25

The price of China's economic boom is being paid in water, Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng warned yesterday.

Chronic shortages, pollution, waste and poor management have combined to exhaust the country's fragile water system, said Wang in a report to the Standing Committee of National People's Congress (NPC) on the use and protection of water resources.

"While we have scored enormous economic achievements, we also paid a high price," he said.

China needs another 40 billion cubic metres of water each year, said Wang. Of the 669 cities in the country, 440 suffer water shortages, which is serious for 110. China's per capita water holdings are one third of the world's average.

More than 100 billion cubic metres of ground water are over-exploited each year, pushing an area of 64,000 square kilometres - covering 50-odd cities - to subsidence levels, said Wang.

An ecological crisis also looms, with water levels in the country's lakes down 15 per cent and natural wetlands down 26 per cent from the early 1950s.

Wang named "human factors," such as uneconomical use of water, as the main cause of the problems.

China's water use efficiency is one fifth of the world's average, in terms of contribution to the domestic gross product (GDP) per cubic metre of water.

Only 65 per cent of the water used by industry is actually recycled, compared to 85 per cent in many developed economies.

North China suffers from serious shortages, yet in 2002 some 99 per cent of the region's industrial water ration was consumed by the water-guzzling industries.

Wang admitted the country's perennial government-led water protection system falls short of arousing society-wide motivation to participate.

"On one side there is huge investment in water facilities and pollution-treatment projects, but on the other side there is waste and wanton contamination," Wang said.

(China Daily 12/28/2004 page2)


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