Water strategy

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, May 24, 2011
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The government can never attach too much strategic importance to the water problem in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, given its position as one of the most important grain production bases, one of the most densely populated regions and the country's most developed area.

Records show that the seasonal water level in this part of the Yangtze has constantly reached the historical lows of at least 20 years every year in the last decade. The level this year is the lowest in recorded history. More than 1,000 reservoirs in Central China's Hubei province dropped to such a low level that 500,000 people face a shortage of drinking water.

It is high time that the government organized experts to find out the real cause of the problem and ascertain whether such water shortages will become increasingly severe. If that is the case, the government needs to pool resources to find solutions.

According to the latest census figures, the urban population now represents 49.68 percent of the country's total population. Of the more than 600 cities, 400 are haunted by a lack of water and the problem is acute for 200 of them. If seasonal lack of water in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze further expands as it has in the past decade and becomes permanent, it will be impossible for North China, long plagued by drought, to rely on its southern counterparts to quench its thirst.

Even cities along the Yangtze River may have to think of other long-term options, say desalination of seawater and even more efficient use of existing water resources, to meet the ever-increasing demand for water consumption.

Tianjin, a coastal city in North China that has long been plagued by a shortage of water, has started to supply desalinated seawater to its residents. The cost is high but it is still much lower than the cost of diverting water from the south to the north.

If anything, the record seasonal low water level along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River should serve as a reminder that water consumption efficiency and water saving are essential urbanization strategies at all levels.

The use of recycled water for flushing toilets and other non-edible purposes, the collection of rainwater and its efficient use, and industrial water consumption should all be taken into consideration in urban planning.

Any foot-dragging on this matter will likely prove to have serious consequences. Urban planners and decision-makers at all levels need to be visionary and act before it is too late. The central government must consider a national strategy to ward off an approaching water crisis.

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