China: The Issue of Water

10 May

Since the implementation of the open door policy in 1978 China has rapidly developed into an economic power. This has been achieved through the mechanisms associated with industrialisation and involved the foundation of special economic zones as well as domestic agriculture reforms. This growth however is substantially based on environmental resources such as land, minerals and plentiful water. In a recent five year plan on tackling pollution within China, water pollution was noted as a severe issue:

“In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages’”

Cancer villages began to be recognised as prominent throughout China as the result of poor water quality in rivers and reservoirs leading to high incident rates of cancer in some villages. This became particularly prominent in 2009 when investigative journalist Deng Fei generated a now famous map of China showing over a 100 cancer villages. Since then this has been updated to reveal more than 400 cancer villages across China.

Availability of fresh water is currently estimated at between 1,700 and 2,500 cubic meters per person per year which is lower than availability levels in a majority of countries and is becoming increasingly vulnerable in respect to the global standard. At the moment two-thirds of Chinese cites face water shortage issues which are only likely to increase as more people migrate to urban centres. In rural areas over 500 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water which is also likely to increase from pollution due to farming practices and spreading industrialisation.

In an attempt to resolve this issue the government in China has created a plan to expand the water desalination industry to reach a capacity of 2.2 million cubic meters per day by 2015. Measures to restrict consumption have also been implemented through increasing water charges in many cities. Reclaimed water has also been utilised as a new form of supply with Beijing reclaiming over 8 tons during 2012.


2 Responses to “China: The Issue of Water”

  1. tw8g11 May 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    This issue is certainly an interesting one and has perhaps not received as much coverage as some of the other problems facing the Chinese leadership. When compared to many of the other Asian countries, China actually has a relatively plentiful supply of water. However, problems arise due to the uneven distribution of the resource, which is overwhelmingly concentrated in the South and far West. Indeed, during the 1990s the Yellow river that runs through the North failed to reach the sea, whilst existing water tables in the region have fallen to unreachable levels.
    With regards to potential solutions to the problem, the government has sought to address these regional disparities through monumental feats of engineering. The South-North Water transfer has been designed with the aim of channelling 45 cubic kilometres of water northwards annually. Undoubtedly implementing the physical infrastructure needed to do this will prove enormously challenging, with the planned western route going directly over the Himalayan mountain range. Moreover potential social and environmental impacts will need to be taken into account. Not only will construction displace hundreds of thousands from their homes, but there remains a possibility that water borne diseases could be transferred to previously unexposed environments.


  1. Experts: In 20 Years Time No Water Will Be Left In China | Family Survival Protocol - Microcosm News - May 19, 2013

    […] China: The Issue of Water ( […]

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