Beijing Water

China wrung dry of water for thirsty Olympics

(April 2, 2008) China is planning to divert billions of gallons of water hundreds of miles from drought-stricken regions to feed Olympic development in the capital Beijing.

Workers are struggling to finish the first phase of a huge canal to meet a surge in demand for water, fuelled by construction projects and the hundreds of thousands of athletes and visitors at the Games in August.

The project is already under attack as an expensive, makeshift attempt to counter China’s environmental crisis with another environmentally damaging mega-project.
But the decision to speed up part of it before the Olympics also highlights how ordinary people are paying the price for Beijing’s showpiece new buildings, along with associated lakes, fountains and gardens.
They include farmers already suffering from shrinking reservoirs that can no longer feed their irrigation systems.

Some have abandoned traditional crops such as rice, others have given up land to the desert that is encroaching on swathes of the country, and others are switching to livestock, a problem that is making the arid conditions worse.

“I had to give up watering my land.” said Dong Zhiwen, 34, a goat-herder near the edge of a deep section of canal being dug through Hebei Province to Beijing’s south.
“All my land was irrigated before, and I could grow wheat,” he said. “From the beginning of this year there was no water supply.”
The shortage of water is one of the most visible consequences of the country’s inefficient use of resources, climate change and the pressure from its growing population and booming economy.
Government figures show Beijing has water reserves of 66,000 gallons per head of population – an eighth of the Chinese average, and a thirtieth of the world average. The south-north water diversion project is the £30 billion solution.

Three enormous canal systems are planned – and two already under construction – to take water from the Yangtse in central China to the Yellow river and Beijing in the north.
“We will have to cut down water irrigation to the fields,” said Miao Shunyao, an official with the Xidawang water authority.
“Those in the north of the province are already having to give up rice paddies to grow corn to cut down water.”
The Xidawang reservoir is already at its lowest ever point, after constant use for irrigation and to supply the nearby major city of Baoding.
Most residents insist that the sacrifice is one they are prepared to make for the Olympics. “The Olympics are a very big event for the whole country,” Mr Miao said.

But in a scathing article published in New York last month, Dai Qing, the country’s most outspoken environmentalist and critic of the Three Gorges Dam, attacked the country’s leaders. “While they have created previously unknown wealth, it is a wealth made possible by the avaricious consumption of natural resources,” she wrote., April 2, 2008

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