Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on January 28, 2009
On the surface, things are looking good in Shijiazhuang, China: the population of this northern city is increasing, economic growth is up 11 percent from last year, and upscale waterfront housing developments are rapidly popping up in this provincial haven of more than two million people.
Underneath it all, however, is a different story. There is no prosperity for northern China’s water supply. Local groundwater has been two-thirds drained by municipal wells, while the underground water table sinks about four feet per year.
For the past thirty years, as China’s massive economic expansion led them to world power status, water has served a vital function. The usage of this resource has quintupled since late 1940s, but poor planning has led to a major water crisis, causing the New York Times to speculate that “leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.”
China’s enormous grain growing industry keeps the nation’s food importation to a minimum, but also requires dangerous amounts of water in order to thrive, leading scientists to suggest restricting the amount of water used for crops. The number of farmers whose livelihoods could be hurt by this is estimated to be in the millions.
Due to limited rainfall (a result of climate change, some say), the Northern China Plain depends on groundwater for 60 percent of its supply. Scientists predict that aquifers in this area could be empty within 30 years. Currently, China has a smaller water supply than the United States with five times the population. Another problem is distribution. Four-fifths of the nation’s water is in the southern region.
However, an unrealized plan of former leader Mao Zedong’s may help matters. A $62 billion dollar project to funnel more then 12 trillion gallons per year from the more abundant Yangtze River basin is in the works and could be completed by 2050. Two of the three proposed routes are currently under construction, while the third is being held up due to environmental concerns. However, it is not known how clean the water will be when it reaches the north. Water pollution is out of control, with municipal and industrial dumping rendering large sections of rivers “unfit for human contact.”
One thing is certain, without adequate amounts of clean water, the Northern China Plan’s prosperity won’t be able to continue.