Water Project: a Must for Sustainable Development

“If China didn’t launch its south-to-north water project, many places in the north would be reduced to ruins in the future, like the fate of the Dunhuang in western China’s Gansu Province, ” said Pan Junmei emotionally.

“Dunhuang used to be a prosperous city along the Silk Road in ancient China. It was drought and severe shortage of water that reduced a strategic place gradually to ruins.”

Pan is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and former superior commissioner of the Population Fund of the United Nations. He lives in New York and has come back to China for the annual CPPCC session.

He said he is glad to learn that the water transfer project has been included in China’s 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05). The project will channel surplus water from the Yangtze River to the thirsty north through the eastern, central, and western routes. It is increasingly urgent to start the project as soon as possible, since drought has become worsening in the north, he continued.

Yet, other members of the CPPCC question the project. Some hold that the project is too expensive and complicated, and poses many social problems, such as the migration of local people of the Yangtze River area. They prefer to tackle the problems by making use of the treated polluted water.

Although the project involves various problems, it is still worthwhile, Vice Minister Zhou Wenzhi of the Ministry of Water Resources told the reporter of the China Internet Information Center. Purified sewage cannot meet the tremendous water demand of the north, but it should be advocated to improve water use efficiency.

China has conducted years of comprehensive research for the project, and it is a most suitable way to solve the serious water shortage problems in the north, Zhou insisted.

So far, China has per capita water resources of 2,300 cubic meters, which is expected to drop to 1,700, the accepted global lower limit, by 2030, if no action is taken. The country has an uneven geological and seasonal water distribution, featuring abundance in the south, but little in the north. Given the fast economic and social development, the project needs to be started as soon as possible since it will take some ten years or more to be completed, said Zhou.

He also added that China should enhance people’s water-saving awareness since a single water project is not a panacea for long-term shortage. Water-saving agriculture and industry should be promoted as a counterpoint to the current prevailing waste. The related technology should be researched and developed to guarantee a synchronous progress of water transfer and water saving.

As to the many problems the project will bring, Yuan Guolin, a senior consultant of the China Three Gorges Corp. and vice board chairman of the China Water Conservancy Association, said that China would do a meticulous job to increase profits and lessen the negative impacts. The local people, for example, will be relocated in a better way since the country has accumulated experience from the Three Gorges migration.

(CIIC by Guo Xiaohong 03/12/2001)