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Experts warn of water crisis
By Liang Chao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-20 06:20

China's water supply, vital to the country's sustainable development, is likely to be stretched to its limit by 2030 as the population climbs above 1.6 billion with an urbanization rate of about 60 per cent, a water official warned yesterday.

Liu Ning, chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources, said that "without integrated water resources management (IWRM), China's total annual water supply will reach 800 to 900 billion cubic metres in the next 25 years or hit the limit of the country's total water supply."

Twenty-five years from now, about half of China's water supply will be used for irrigation to feed its growing population, 280 billion cubic metres will be needed for urban areas and industry, and 100 billion cubic metres for ensuring ecosystems, he said quoting research conducted on the subject.

According to experts, the country's water supply will fall 11 billion cubic metres short of demand per year despite increased supply capacity.

China is now capable of supplying 680 billion cubic metres of water annually, with 68 per cent of that consumed by irrigation and less than one-seventh used for maintaining or rehabilitating ecosystems.

Today, urban China and industry consume 180 billion cubic metres of water per year or over 20 per cent of the total, said Wang Hao, executive secretary of Global Water Partnership China (GWP China), a non-governmental organization focusing on IWRM.

China's water supply is in trouble due to the scarcity of water resources and worsening pollution after the country's rapid economic growth of the past two decades, Wang told a high-level roundtable meeting on water resources yesterday in Beijing.

"It is a must for China to use IWRM for its future sustainability as it can help all concerned authorities promote the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources," he said.

"This way, they can maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems."

"This is a commonly accepted principle within the international water resources community and has been verified by the latest survey and evaluation China has completed on its water resources," Liu said.

Over the past 20 years, water has become a major factor affecting ecosystems throughout China and its shortage poses a threat to the country's sustainable development, he said.

Among 514 rivers the survey monitored, 60 ran dry in 2000 with their function either degraded or lost.

Water volume in the nation's lakes has also dipped 14 per cent with many wetlands shrinking drastically in size, the survey showed.

Of the 1,073 fountainheads investigated, water quality in 25 per cent of them was below grade III, the minimum standard for drinking water supply.

"China, like many other developing countries, should have paid more attention to the real cost of its water related problems and their consequent impact upon its sustainability," Bjorn Guterstam, a network officer of GWP, said.

"We hope we can bring in the international experience of IWRM while China finds its own local solutions to its water problems," said Khalid Mohtadullah, GWP's senior adviser. GWP was founded in 1996 to safeguard water resources within the framework of sustainable development. The specific role of GWP is to assist countries with the sustainability of their water resources.

(China Daily 04/20/2005 page2)

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