China facing severe water crisis due to massive food production
The Asian giant has been warned by one of its own groundwater experts to either cut its food production or else face "dire" water levels, especially in the dry northwest plains. If not, aquifers will sink to "dire" levels not seen in 30 years.
"The government must adopt a new policy to reduce water consumption," said Zheng Chunmiao, director of the Water Research Centre at Peking University, in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper.
"The main thing is to reduce demand. We have relied too much on engineering projects, but the government realizes this is not a long-term solution," he added.
But how does a country the size of China reduce demand, especially during a period of rapid economic growth when the country is modernizing at a pace never seen before? Unless you physically eliminate the number of mouths to feed, Beijing can't credibly "reduce demand."
"The water situation in the North China plain does not allow much longer for irrigation," he added. "We need to reduce food production even though it is politically difficult. It would be much more economical to import."
That's not a popular prospect for a nation struggling to emerge from centuries of second-class status. And yet, according to Zheng's estimates, that may be the only choice to avoid mass starvation.
He says the country has to increasingly rely on underground water sources to meet its demands - 70 percent of it now comes from underground, he said. That has had a dramatic effect on a number of aquifers, many of which are emptying at an alarming pace.
In the meantime, the government plans to implement efficiency measures, but few think that is anything but a stopgap measure. That's because usage is occurring faster than replenishment.
In and around Chifeng city, in northern China, farmers have had to delay harvesting crops to avoid injury because fields are so dry they have developed cracks up to 32 feet deep. In fact, the city's water bureau says 62 percent of its 51 reservoirs have run dry, leaving more than a quarter million people short of water.
And the problem is spreading. In fact, hundreds of Chinese cities are facing water shortages.
"Swelling numbers of Chinese can now afford piped water, private bathrooms, washing machines, homes with gardens, cars that need washing, and more food, which needs growing. Buying power also has led to a growing number of golf courses, and ski resorts that use man-made snow," CNN reported.
Why is China's water shortage a big deal? Because a nation as powerful as China will find a way to secure enough water for its needs. Beijing is not about to take a step backwards in its development. And in the future, as fresh water becomes more scarce, wars will be fought over it.
July 13, 2011