Beijing Water

Report predicts dire economic effects of Beijing water crisis

June 28, 2008

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 yesterday.

Experts predict the Chinese capital could run out of water in five to 10 years, said 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 report on 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.

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

The available water supply amounts to less than 200m³ per person a year, Ryder said.

One thousand cubic meters per person is the level 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 meters of water, the report said.

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 1,000m or more underground.

Not only that, but Beijing is to start transferring water from existing and proposed reservoirs in Hebei Province this year and from the Yangtze River from 2010.

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

“Nobody is in charge,” Ryder said.

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

The price in Beijing is US$0.54 a cubic meter, the report said, compared with between US$0.65 and US$0.80 in Brazil and between US$2.2 and US$2.7 in England and Wales.

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