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Opinion ... ...
    New concept wanted to solve water shortage

2005-05-11 06:22

As the economy grows and society develops, there seems to be less of many things.

But the lack of energy and resources, including water, is not just because of economic expansion. Continual consumption and excessive exploration over a long period of time have led to the current resource pinch.

The water crisis is a case in point.

On the one hand, the national per capita water allocation is less than 2,200 cubic metres, a quarter of the world average. In North China's drought-prone regions it is just 990 cubic metres.

Among the 660 Chinese cities, more than 400 are short of water, and the situation is very severe in more than 100 cities, including the capital city Beijing.

On the other hand, experts say water consumption in industrial production is 10-20 times higher than in developed economies. Water used for agricultural irrigation in this country is more than double in economically advanced countries.

Now the water crisis has gone deeper.

Since the early 1970s, China's ground- water exploration has doubled and redoubled every 10 years. In the more thirsty northern areas, in particular, some cities have relied solely on ground- water for their sustenance.

Excessive tapping has caused a continual drop in the groundwater level, which has led to land caving in in more than 50 Chinese cities, with Shanghai, Tianjin and Taiyuan among the worst affected.

This is very serious. Groundwater is our last resort. If exorbitant tapping continues, we risk having little ground- water to drink and use in the future.

Experts forecast China's per capita water allocation will hit a record low of 1,750 cubic metres in 2030 as the population peaks. Soaring demand coupled with decreased resources will lead to a crisis.

It is time for us to reflect on our overall water-related policies, and act.

The solution to the groundwater problem lies above the ground.

First of all, the pricing of water needs to be more reasonable.

Don't take that as a price hike suggestion. A universal price hike is of course detrimental to the poor. Without a subsidy mechanism that works, the authorities must think twice before rushing to raise water prices.

But the price of water for civil use should be raised in accordance with the rise in consumption. Within a water consumption cap, the price should be kept unchanged. But above that cap, the more one consumes, the more one should pay.

Such a progressive pricing system would help curb excessive water consumption while protecting the basic interests of the poor.

As for the industrial use of water, it is more than an issue of pricing. We need to impose higher prices on industries which use a lot of water. Further, the State must draft and implement a new development blueprint. High technologies should be encouraged to gradually update energy-gobbling industries to reduce the waste of precious energy and resources, including water.

This will involve an often painful structural transformation of the economy. Many heavy industries devour huge amounts of energy and resources, but they are also a major source of local fiscal revenue.

In making the choice, policy-makers are put to the test. It is not only a test of their wisdom, but one of their commitment to the oft-repeated "scientific development concept."

(China Daily 05/11/2005 page4)


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