Why The China Water Crisis Is The World Water Crisis

by Jamin Arvig on December 27, 2013


Water Crisis Spells Danger For China20% of the world’s population lives in China.  And by 2030, a significant percentage of this population will run out of clean drinking water. Bottom-line, the economic and human impact of millions of Chinese residents facing the very real possibility of dehydration will undoubtedly disrupt stability throughout the balance of the world.  So the question becomes, what do we do about it?

As with any massive global issue, the first step is always to increase our own awareness of what is causing the problem. Similar to our global water shortage issues, the water crisis in China is due in large part to uneven distribution and fresh water concentration.  This is becoming further complicated by rapid economic development that demands the use of more water, and by many accounts, poor environmental practices.  Some blame this combination of factors on the fact that China has recently run more than 28,000 rivers dry.

The Chinese government is responding by attempting to reallocate fresh water from areas of plenty to areas of need.  While distribution of resources is a key driver in China’s water crisis, the issues are made too complex by everything from geography to competing interests to make this a viable solution.

The New York Times reports:

Beijing has placed its faith in monumental feats of engineering to slake the north’s growing thirst. The South-North Water Transfer eventually aims to pipe 45 cubic kilometers of water annually northward along three routes in eastern, central and western China. All three pose enormous technical challenges: The eastern and central routes will be channeled under the Yellow River, while the western route entails pumping water over part of the Himalayan mountain range.

The estimated cost of $65 billion is almost certainly too low, and doesn’t include social and ecological impacts. Construction has already displaced hundreds of thousands, and issues the like possible increases in transmission of water-borne diseases have not been properly studied. But Beijing’s calculus is political: It is easier to increase the quantity of water resources, at whatever cost, rather than allocate a limited supply between competing interests.

Metals & Mining Contributing to China Water CrisisAs for the competing interests at play, industries from farming to mining are seated alongside the health and well-being of the Chinese people.  And there simply isn’t enough water to support them all.  Beyond the impact to China, here is why the rest of the world needs to be just as terrified:

  • As one of the largest mining nations, disruptions in the water supply in China could significantly impact Chinese mining efforts increasing prices of goods throughout the world
  • China supplies nations including India and Pakistan with drinking water, meaning the supplies of these nations are also at risk, which could lead to dangerous instability in this part of the world
  • Water shortages could limit the ability of the Chinese people to cultivate enough food to sustain their own population, which could contribute to a future global food crisis

(Thanks to ChinaWaterRisk.org for providing much of the information above. )

Back to one of our original questions – what can those of us in the rest of the world do to help?

Countries At Risk From China Water CrisisChinaWaterRisk.org actually offers several resources, for individuals and businesses, sharing how they can support a reversal of the water crisis in China.  In regards to individuals, this can be as easy as being aware of the crisis, spreading awareness and offering your support to water shortage solutions and usage practices that could bring about change or be applied in more regions.

For businesses with an interest in China, which will become an increasingly larger number, building up awareness is also a critical first step.  Unlike individuals, however, some businesses will have the ability to invoke some economic pressure which may help to get more realistic solutions rolling more quickly.

A recent article by The Economist states:

“The Chinese government would do better to focus on demand, reducing consumption of water in order to make better use of limited supplies. Water is too cheap in most cities, usually costing a tenth of prices in Europe. Such mispricing results in extravagance. Industry recycles too little water; agriculture wastes too much. Higher water prices would raise costs for farms and factories, but that would be better than spending billions on shipping water round the country.”

Economically supporting Chinese regions and corporations that commit to better water usage and sustainability practices may help to change the mindset of many within this nation’s government or industries.  In turn, this could lead them towards exploring more realistic initiatives experiencing success in other parts of the world.

Ultimately, solving the China water crisis will rest most with the Chinese people and government.  For the rest of the world, it remains our duty to be hyper-aware of this crisis, and be ready to step in and help when needed.

I encourage you to follow ChinaWaterRisk on either Twitter or Facebook to stay up to date on this issue.

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