Growth leaves China high and dry
The price of China's economic boom is being paid in water, Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng warned Monday.
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.
China needs another 40 billion cubic metres of water each year, said Wang. Of the 669 cities in the country, 440 suffer water shortages and 110 of those are serious. 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 kilometers -- 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, adding that water exploitation and pollution control remains weak.
But he was positive about the efforts made so far.
By the end of 2003, China could process 662.6 million cubic metres of sewage daily, whereas the yearly output of desalinated sea water reached 113 million cubic metres.
Efforts on the ecological side also paid off to an extent.
The lower-reach course of China's largest inland river, the Tarim, which was dry for over two decades, resumed flowing in 2001, sending stretches of dormant land back into production.
"The crux of the water problem is whether or not we can strike a balance between people and nature, between economy and environment, between instant and long-term gains, and between local and overall interests," said Wang.