Severe water shortage hits China's capital

16:20, May 18, 2011      

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Recently, Beijing Water Authority revealed that the city's per capita water resources has declined to 100 cubic meters, far lower than the international warning line for water shortage — 1,000 cubic meters.

Why Beijing is so short of water

"Many reasons lead to the current situation, including some objective reasons, bad public water saving consciousness as well as some problems on usage mode and proportion of water resources." Fu Tao, director of the Water Industry Policy Research Center of Tsinghua University, told People's Daily Online reporters.

He also said the current price of water does not illustrate the water shortage completely, and he believes the future water price should be made at a more reasonable level and to let capable enterprises as well as people carry more economic responsibilities.

Beijing, China's capital, has been constantly coming up short in terms of water. In the last 12 years, the longest and worst drought period since 1949 hit the city and caused a 120-millimeter decrease in average rainfall compared to years before.

According to the statistics of the Beijing Water Resources Notice in 2009, Beijing had 676 million cubic meters of surface water, which was a 62 percent decrease from average of years before. It has 1.5 billion cubic meters of underground water resources, which decreased 634 million cubic meters year-on-year.

"Years of drought and the postponement of the redirection of water to Beijing through the national project of South-to-North Water Diversion intensify the severe situation of Beijing's water shortage. At the same time, the development of society keeps consuming more and more water resources." Chen Jing, the chief of Beijing Water Authority, said so this March.

In addition, Fu Tao expressed his worries about the over-utilization of deep underground water to supply the city's daily water usage. He said the deep underground water belongs to non-renewable resources, and years of overuse has already make the water level go down rapidly, meanwhile some projects intensified that trend due to the destructive constructions. Therefore, he believes such overuse may cause an ecological degradation.

Luxurious water consumption intensifies Beijing's water crisis

In April of this year, environmentalist Hu Kanping pointed out to press that luxurious water consumption peaked due to the popularity of manmade snow entertainment programs in Beijing, which caused a huge waste of water resources, ecological damage and intensified Beijing's water crisis.

Hu said Beijing would use 1 million tons of water at least to make snow every year, which equals the total water consumption of 8,300 families in a whole year. "Most of the manmade snow evaporates, seeps into the ground and cannot be recycled. That has caused a huge waste of water resources," he said.

Some suggest Beijing should issue bans on running high-class bath centers, skiing fields, Golf playground and other places with higher water consumption and limitations on programs of low efficient in water usage.

However, Fu thinks the basic problems should be attributed to the water price, which has to display water shortage by a reasonable value. Fu said capable enterprises and people should carry more economic responsibilities.

Contradiction between population growth, resource shortage

Hou Dongmin, a professor on Natural Resources and Environmental Economics from Renmin University of China, said "the rapid growth of population may cause a severe water crisis."

According to his analysis, the per capita water resources of the city with 20 million of population would be as low as 250 cubic meters even if the South-to-North Water Diversion can provide 1 billion cubic meters to Beijing annually. Therefore, he believes the rapid growth of population in the city has already made its human-environment relationship very fragile, and cut the speed of population growth has already become the top priority of Beijing in the 12th Five-Year Plan period.

However, Fu believes it will be so hard to control the population growth through administrative means. He also said since the population expansion in Beijing is unavoidable due to the city's development and opportunities, Beijing should let market means work a lot in water usage.

What can we do to tackle future water crises

In increasing water resources, reclaimed water has huge potential.

Beijing Water Authority revealed that it would issue a method to encourage the use of reclaimed water, awarding those units using reclaimed water instead of tap water and promoting the use of reclaimed water in average families.

At the same time, the total consumption of water in Beijing has already decreased by 500 million cubic meters from 4 billion cubic meters in the 1990s, and the water consumption in rural industry has decreased by the largest amount.

In addition, Scholars also pointed out that transforming development pattern, enterprises and innovating technologies as well as system and providing huge space for reducing the water need and consumption in Beijing in the future.

By Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online
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