Beijing Water

Beijing faces turmoil due to water crisis: Probe International

June 27, 2008

Experts predict the Chinese capital could run out of water in five to 10 years, according to Grainne Ryder, policy director at Probe International.


BEIJING (AFP) Beijing’s water crisis is so critical that the city is facing economic collapse and the need to resettle part of its population in coming decades, a leading development policy group said Friday.

Experts predict the Chinese capital could run out of water in five to 10 years, according to Grainne Ryder, policy director at Canada-based Probe International.

She said Beijing would potentially have to start shutting down industry, as the city would be incapable of supporting current levels of infrastructure or population.

“I would imagine it would be a phased shut-down of its economy, an economic collapse,” she said.

Speaking at the launch of a reporton Beijing’s water crisis just six weeks before the “Green Olympics” in August, Ryder said authorities had already discussed moving people out of the capital to other cities in the future.

According to the report by Probe, called “Beijing’s Water Crisis: 1949-2008 Olympics,” Beijing’s 200 or so rivers and streams are drying up, and the city’s reservoirs are almost empty.

The available water supply, according to Ryder, amounts to less than 200 cubic metres (7,060 cubic feet) per person a year.

One thousand cubic metres is the indicator of extreme water stress according to international standards.

At the same time, water demand is rising, and the Olympic Games — for which Beijing has developed man-made lakes, musical fountains and new parks — will consume around 200 million cubic metres of water, the report said.

This is the equivalent of 80,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

More than two thirds of the city’s water supply now comes from groundwater, and Beijing is having to extract water originally intended for use in emergencies, such as war, from 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) or more underground.

Not only that, but Beijing is to start transferring water from existing and proposed reservoirs in neighbouring Hebei province this year, and plans to divert water from the Yangtze River in central China from 2010, the report said.

“The answer is we’re going to start draining other regions so the proliferation of the crisis is then related to keeping Beijing on life support,” Ryder said.

But Jiang Wenlai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said he thought the comments were exaggerated.

“Currently, Beijing uses 0.5 billion cubic metres of recycled water every year, which is quite advanced on a national level.”

He added an ambitious project to bring water via newly dug canals from the Yangtze river to north China will bring 1.2 billion cubic metres of water to Beijing.

“But the report is a warning to us all to do more about the water shortage,” he said.

Probe International called for China to set up a special government agency to get the water system under control.

“Nobody is in charge. There are overlapping responsibilities, so they need to have a regulator that can seriously look at what can be done, and what should be done first,” Ryder said.

The report also urged the Chinese government to introduce higher prices to encourage people to use less water and to promote efficiency.

Currently, the price in Beijing is 0.54 dollars a cubic metre, the report said, compared to between 0.65 and 0.80 dollars in Brazil, and between 2.2 and 2.7 dollars in England and Wales.

“Beijing needs to start acting like it has a crisis on its hands,” Ryder said.

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