August 6, 2008
The Olympics have swung the focus of international attention to China’s many achievements and problems, but water shortage is not just a local issue affecting Beijing and surrounding areas.
An Indonesian editorial on water scarcity.
The Chinese government has made a huge effort to improve air quality and beautify Beijing for the Olympics that open on Friday (8 August). But it cannot apply a short-term ‘fix’ to another problem that visitors to the Games will not see – the steady depletion of underground water supplies in northern China, where the capital is located.
A study published in June by¬† Probe International, a Canadian environmental research group, found that over two-thirds of Beijing’s water is being pumped from beneath the ground to compensate for dwindling surface water from reservoirs and rivers that once supplied the city.
It warned that the underground saturation level, known as the water table, is dropping because water is being pumped out faster than it can be replenished, and that plans for long distance water diversion will aggravate the impending crisis unless water is used much more efficiently.
Although the Olympics have swung the focus of international attention to China’s many achievements and problems, water shortage is not just a local issue affecting Beijing and surrounding areas. Tushaar Shah is an Indian hydrologist with the International Water Management Institute, part of a worldwide network of farm research centres funded by the World Bank. He estimates that India, China and Pakistan together pump approximately 400 cubic kilometres of water out of the ground each year, about twice as much as is recharged by rain. These three countries, with a combined population of nearly 2.6 billion, account for more than half the world’s use of underground water for agriculture.
However, they are not alone. The drilling of millions of deep wells and the extensive use of farm pumps to bring the water to the surface in the past fifteen years in many parts of Asia, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have helped raise food production – but at a long-term cost of diminished underground water supplies that are emergency stores for the future.
Excessive pumping of water from beneath greater Jakarta is causing parts of the city to sink and allowing salt water from the nearby sea to filter in, contaminating a valuable reservoir of fresh water. Similar over-exploitation of aquifers has taken place in the Middle East, South America, the United States and Australia.
Photo: An old well in China, “Shizhao,” Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2
Categories: Beijing Water