Water, the looming environmental crisis

1 Aug

It’s no secret that China has serious environmental problems, but usually smoggy and polluted air gets a lot of the attention. However, water should be considered one of the biggest problems, not just because of it is very polluted but because it’s scarce and disappearing. Rapid and mass development and industrialization have caused a lot of China’s water sources to disappear, with 27,000 rivers having vanished since the 1950s, according to the article.

It’s reached the point where China has seven percent of the world’s freshwater resources but 20 percent of the world’s population. And of the existing water, well not surprisingly, China has some of the most heavily polluted water, so bad that the government admitted polluted water may have caused “cancer villages” where a lot of residents developed cancer and died.
Making the water scarcity issue worse is the unequal distribution of the water, with the more arid north having much less but still using more due to its major industries such as steel and iron processing and manufacturing. Beijing itself has major water scarcity problems and already “borrows” water from neighboring Hebei province.

To address this, China did what it seems to do best and unleashed a major infrastructural project in the form of cross-country canals to transport water from the south to the north, of which one has already been built. But even this may not be effective and risks lessening up the water supply for the places where the water comes from. And this will create gripes about the north from the southern provinces.
Another problematic factor is that China’s western regions like Xinjiang and Tibet are vast and sparsely populated, but the government is keen on developing these places, resulting in increasing populations and industrial projects, which will damage ecosystems there, especially the headwaters of major rivers.

The authorities, both central and local, seem to be quite aware of how serious the problem is, and have become more strict about water pollution and other measures to clean up water supplies, with the central government announcing a $320 billion plan to tackle the water problem this February. It’s a huge task nevertheless, and grand infrastructural and engineering projects may not be sufficient, as long as water conservation and de-industrialization measures are not widely implemented as well.

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