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Dealing with Drought

Experts are crying out for comprehensive water-saving strategies as a fundamental solution to China’s worsening water shortage, which they say is an issue threatening the nation’s sustainability.


Monday, March 22, was 12th annual World Water Day and the first day of China’s 17th Water Week. Leading experts in the field called on citizens to improve their understanding of the relationship between humans and water resources.


The theme of World Water Day 2004 was “Water and Disaster.”


“In China, shortages of water are an unavoidable issue challenging national security,” said Wang Shucheng, who heads the Ministry of Water Resources.


Water shortages plague 400 out of China’s 660-plus cities. The situation continues to worsen in 100 of them, including metropolitan areas like Beijing and Tianjin, he said.


Wang forecast that China’s per capita share of water resources will decrease by 20 percent, dropping from the present 2,140 cubic meters--only 31 percent of the world average--to 1,700 cubic meters by 2030 as the population peaks at an estimated 1.6 billion people.


Worsening water scarcity and pollution, he indicated, will not only bottleneck China’s economic growth but also slow its pace in creating a prosperous society within 20 years.


“Creating a water-conservation-conscious society should be treated as a fundamental strategic measure in people’s daily lives, with strict conservation rules widely adopted to raise water-use efficiency,” Wang said.


He urged related authorities “to put an end to any water-wasting behaviors and fight against random water pollution.”


“Water pollution control is a must for the government to improve fragile ecosystems even though its cost is high,” declared Chen Zhikai, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.


By 2050, China’s discharge of sewage will be up to 150 billion cubic meters, according to Chen.


He called for sewage treatment and recycling facilities that would enable the water to be reused for crop irrigation.


The use of such water can also be enhanced in north China’s coastal areas and in the northwest to offset the regional lack of fresh water supplies, Chen suggested.


“We can also desalinize seawater. In 2002, only 12 billion cubic meters of seawater was desalinized in China. That is only 15 percent of the level the United States reached in 1985,” he added.


Li Jingwen, a scholar at the academy, said he hopes that restructuring of regional industry will include controlling projects unsuitable for regional water supply capabilities.


“Blindly digging wells for drought relief is also damaging groundwater resources in drought-prone areas,” said Tao Qingfa, an official with the Ministry of Land and Resources.


Tao urged authorities to intensify strategic reserves of groundwater for emergency situations.


(China Daily March 23, 2004)

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