The remarkable growth in China’s population and economy over the past several decades has come at a tremendous cost to the country’s environment. China has experienced an economic growth rate averaging 10 percent per year for more than 20 years. But sustained growth and the health of the country are increasingly threatened by environmental deterioration and constraints, particularly around water.
Water is critical for economic growth and well-being; conversely, economic activities have an impact on water availability and quality. When water resources are limited or contaminated, or where economic activity is unconstrained and inadequately regulated, serious social problems can arise.
And in China, these factors have come together in a way that is leading to more severe and complex water challenges than in almost any other place on the planet. II. Water Problems and Possible Solutions China’s water resources are over allocated, inefficiently used, and grossly polluted by human and industrial wastes, to the point that vast stretches of rivers are dead and dying, lakes are cesspools of waste, groundwater aquifers are over-pumped and unsustainably consumed, uncounted species of aquatic life have been driven to extinction, and direct adverse impacts on both human and ecosystem health are widespread and growing.
Of the 20 most seriously polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China. The major watersheds of the country all suffer severe pollution.
Three hundred million people lack access to safe drinking water. Desertification, worsened by excessive withdrawals of surface and groundwater, is growing in northern China. Some of the water problems that China is facing are: •700 million people consume contaminated water •40% of the Chinese water is polluted. And 50% of that water is so severely dangerous, that even contact with the water is hazardous to health. •108 Chinese cities have severe water shortages •45% Chinese land is irrigated, due to lack of rainfall. This accounts for 60% for China’s water use
One of the other problems that China is faced with is the misallocation of resources. That is, water is concentrated in the south, and the north region has more water requirements. To add to that,the north region of China produces coal that is a very water intensive activity. Coal and power production make up 17% of total water usage in China. One of the government plans for the near future is piping the water from the south to the north of the country. However, it is unclear as to what environmental impact the construction of such large scale piping would have in the areas.
Government is planning to spend $330bn to address water shortage and quality issues by 2020. It is currently either engaging in building, or designing plans for, dams. In the past, inhabitants of China have voiced their protests against such plans because such construction plans have already displaced about 1. 3 million people previously. Also, such plans are a severe threat to the species that take shelter in water, like fish. At the same time, government is also taking strict actions to ensure that businesses give more attention to environmental concerns when they are undertaking projects.
It has already disproved up to $20 billion worth of such projects on the grounds of lack of adherence to environmental regulations. To address the issue of cleanliness of water, one of the solutions that have been considered is desalination. The downside to undertaking a large scale desalination of the whole country is the cost attached to it. It is insanely expensive to accept such a project. To add to the costs, it is not possible to clean enough water due to energy constraints. Moreover, there have been plans of recycling water. The government has introduced an ‘Eco Compensation’ program.
This program pays the farmers to maintain and replant the forests, and to implement sustainable land-use practices. Likewise, the government has plans for tiered pricing. Under the plan, the heaviest consumers—or top 5% of households—will pay at least three times the base rate of water. The second tier will pay 1. 5 times the base rate, while the lowest tier—roughly 80% of urban households. III. Hindrance to its solutions Keeping the problems of water in mind and what the government is trying to achieve, corruption becomes a game changer when faced with progression.
A lot of the businesses have high stakes of the government officials, and such vested interest can be harmful when it comes to solving problems. Faced with conflicts of interests, and whether to focus on the benefits of country or personal interest, is slowing the progressive actions to battle the challenges of water problems. To highlight one such area of concern, rivers flow through many provinces. And various departments have authority and sometimes, overlapping authority. This is causing bureaucracy when it comes to what party should be responsible. IV. Conclusion
In summary, China is facing great challenges in regards to water problems. Even tougher are the challenges in regards to the solutions planned to combat the problems. It will be interesting to see how China is able to continue growing as an economy despite of its water problems. At the current rate, it is difficult to predict the outcome of such a situation in a broader sense. But you can be sure of one thing, that is, if China is able to come up with a sustainable solution to its water shortages and pollution, China will be feared as a global player, more so than it already is.